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Charging ‘Dealers’ with Homicide: Explained

Illustration by Hisashi Ohkawa

Charging ‘Dealers’ with Homicide: Explained

In our Explainer series, Justice Collaborative lawyers and other legal experts help unpack some of the most complicated issues in the criminal justice system. We break down the problems behind the headlines—like bail, civil asset forfeiture, or the Brady doctrine—so that everyone can understand them. Wherever possible, we try to utilize the stories of those affected by the criminal justice system to show how these laws and principles should work, and how they often fail. We will update our Explainers quarterly to keep them current.

In May 2016, 26-year-old Caleb Smith was prepping for medical school entry exams, and ordered what he thought was Adderall off the internet to help him study. After the package arrived at his home in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, his girlfriend, 26-year-old Amanda Leach, asked to try some. Smith obliged, and days later, Leach was found dead from an overdose in her apartment. The stimulant Smith thought he ordered online turned out to be illicitly manufactured fentanyl, a synthetic opioid responsible for tens of thousands of deaths across the country.

Prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania charged Smith with “drug-induced homicide” for giving Leach the deadly dose, triggering a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence. With the federal government bearing down on him, a guilt-stricken Smith killed himself. He was an aspiring doctor who had no criminal record and no intention of killing his girlfriend. But none of that mattered to federal prosecutors who, amid one of the worst drug crises in America’s history, have been directed to get tough on dealers as part of an aggressive nationwide response.

Smith’s story is part of a trend among prosecutors ostensibly fighting the opioid epidemic. Known as “drug-induced homicide,” prosecutions like Smith’s are on the rise. According to a report by the Drug Policy Alliance, news articles about individuals charged with or prosecuted for drug-induced homicide increased by over 300 percent in just six years, to 1,178 in 2016 from 363 in 2011. Cases like these are difficult to track, and the numbers are most likely much higher. A New York Times investigation documented over 1,000 such prosecutions since 2015 in only 15 states.

Without any evidence that drug-induced homicide cases prevent dealers from dealing or users from using, this punitive tactic has become a favorite tool among prosecutors. Feeling pressure from communities in crisis to “just do something” about overdose deaths, prosecutors landed on this legal mechanism. Despite these harsh sentences, overdose deaths have continued to steadily rise.

Initially crafted during the “tough on crime” era of the ’80s and ’90s, drug-induced homicide provisions were intended for kingpins and major traffickers. Today, friends, family members, and as in Smith’s case, romantic partners of the overdose victim are all potential targets, effectively stretching the definition of a dealer beyond recognition. Even if a state does not have a drug-induced homicide statute on the books, prosecutors can often deploy criminal law in some form that turns an accidental overdose into homicide or manslaughter.   

In the face of a massive drug crisis, substance use disorder experts, politicians, and law enforcement officials have rallied for a public health approach to the crisis rather than a law-and-order crackdown. But this more sympathetic method runs counter to old, punitive habits preferred by President Trump, who at a rally in March said, “If we don’t get tough on drug dealers, we are wasting our time. And that toughness includes the death penalty.”

This explainer will explore why the rising popularity of drug-induced homicide prosecutions is a disturbing reaction to the opioid crisis, and how these cases compound the tragedies that overdoses have already caused communities across the country.

Myth: Drug-induced homicide prosecutions deter dealers by “sending a strong message.”

Reality: Threats of harsh punishment do not deter drug dealers.

In Rhode Island, Superior Court Judge Kristin Rodgers handed down a 40-year sentence to a young, low-level dealer who sold $40 worth of heroin (which turned out to be laced with fentanyl) that led to the death of 29-year-old Kristen Coutu. At sentencing, Judge Rodgers said that this harsh punishment “should send a message to dealers,” according to local news reports.

Judges and prosecutors across America believe that if they publicize lengthy prison terms, dealers will think twice about their choice of employment. But there is little evidence that this “tough” message is sinking in.

Research by the Pew Charitable Trusts helps explain why that’s the case. “The theory of deterrence would suggest, for instance, that states with higher rates of drug imprisonment would experience lower rates of drug use among their residents,” authors of a  2018 Pew report write. But that theory is not supported by the evidence, which “found no statistically significant relationship between state drug imprisonment rates and three indicators of state drug problems: self-reported drug use, drug overdose deaths, and drug arrests.”

In other words, locking up low-level dealers had no effect on the number of people who died from overdoses. The chasm between evidence and policy is growing even wider in some states. The Rhode Island case, for example, led to the June 2018 enactment of Kristen’s Law, a drug-induced homicide statute named after Coutu that makes it easier to prosecute dealers, opening them up to life sentences if their customers fatally overdose. Mental health advocates and members of the medical community vocally opposed the legislation before it was signed into law.

A 2018 study by Rhode Island’s health department projected that, without health interventions like naloxone distribution or access to medication treatment, the state’s overdose rate will continue to rise into the year 2020. The study made no mention of imprisonment as a way to reduce overdose deaths.

Myth: Drug-induced homicide prosecutions help to slow the flow of drugs into our communities.

Reality: Increased enforcement and interdiction make the drug supply more dangerous.

America’s opioid crisis began with prescription painkillers. After crackdowns on doctors’ so-called pill mills, heroin became the primary driver of overdoses. Today, illicit fentanyl and its analogues cause more overdoses than heroin or any other drug. After one source of opioids is shut down, a new, more dangerous source is ready to fill demand, creating volatility in a drug’s supply.

Contrary to popular belief, there is no evidence that incapacitating drug sellers by “taking them off the street” results in sustained reductions in illicit drug supplies, increases in drug prices, reductions in overdose rates, or other trends these policies are intended to produce, according to research by drug policy experts. Authors of one study write, “The lack of evidence that tougher enforcement raises prices call into question the value, at the margin, of stringent supply-side enforcement policies in high-enforcement nations.”   

There is, however, evidence that such interventions inadvertently produce higher levels of drug-related violence, unpredictable fluctuations in street drug supplies, and more adulteration. After one of Virginia’s biggest heroin dealers was busted in 2014, federal agents said the supply of heroin was interrupted. In the two years after the bust, overdoses of illicit fentanyl in Virginia spiked 366 percent from 2014 to 2016.

On the East Coast, dealers who once sold heroin are slowly being replaced by dealers who sell a much more deadly product. Enforcement efforts that only focus on disrupting the supply of drugs amounts to what one report called “the never-ending game of Whac-a-Mole.” Drug-induced homicide is a continuation of this unwinnable strategy that fails to address the underlying psychological motivations that cause people to continue to seek out deadlier drugs.

Myth: Victims and their families want justice.

Reality: Surviving loved ones often oppose harsh punishments.

Chad Baker, of Newark, Ohio, died on the morning of May 29, 2015, three days before his 35th birthday. Baker had an on-again, off-again relationship with heroin. On what would turn out to be his final run, he bought heroin from Tommy Kosto. Chad and Tommy had become friends while serving time together for drug-related offenses.

Both were working toward recovery but had slipped up along the way. Instead of seeing Kosto as a friend of the victim, Licking County Prosecutor Bill Hayes saw him as a culprit in Baker’s death, and charged him with involuntary manslaughter and “corrupting another with drugs,” among other charges. Kosto was eventually convicted for supplying drugs that killed his friend.  

In an interview in the New Republic, journalist Jack Shuler asked Chad’s father, Jeff Baker, his feelings about the case. Baker told Shuler that at first he wanted a harsh sentence for Tommy Kosto. After the sentencing, his feelings changed, as he thought about what his son would want. “Leave these people alone. I made the choice on my own,” Baker said, channeling his son. “Tommy is sitting in prison because he broke the law. That’s the way I look at it,” Baker told Shuler. “Did he kill my son? No. He broke the law.”

To protect their friends from potential prosecution in the event of an overdose, drug users across the country have organized a project called the Reframe the Blame campaign. While it’s not a legally binding document, the users are helping people who use drugs draft their last wills and testaments to fight against unnecessarily harsh punishments for co-users, many of whom sell small amounts of drugs to support their own substance use disorders.

Other families surviving their loved one’s deaths have come to similar conclusions. Chelsea Laliberte’s brother, Alex, died from an overdose in 2008 when he was just 20 years old, after using heroin he bought from a friend in Chicago. A decade later, she’s an activist and vocal critic of drug-induced homicide prosecutions.

“They were all doing [heroin] together. So as a moral person, I felt that that was very hypocritical to go after somebody, when my brother was doing the same thing,” Laliberte told a local TV news reporter. “They both had the same opportunity to die.”

Myth: Drug-induced homicide prosecutions prevent overdose deaths.

Reality: The threat of jail prevents overdose witnesses from dialing 911.

Many states with drug-induced homicide statutes on the books also have “911 Good Samaritan Laws,” which grant special immunity (from charges like possession) for those who call for emergency help during an overdose. Good Samaritan laws were intended to send a supportive message: It is safe for witnesses to call for help, even if there are drugs at the scene.

But prosecuting overdose witnesses for murder sends the opposite message, creating a chilling effect among those who would otherwise seek life-saving help. Researchers have found evidence of this reluctance, noting that many witnesses are indeed afraid to call for help because they fear legal consequences.

Users are getting mixed messages at best. The threat of a homicide charge undermines the utility of 911 Good Samaritan laws by scaring people out of calling for help, therefore exacerbating the very problem they purport to solve.

Myth: These provisions are needed to catch the “big fish.”

Reality: Low-level dealers, family, friends, and romantic partners are targeted.

In upstate New York, 29-year-old Richard Gaworecki, of Broome County, was charged with criminally negligent homicide for selling heroin that led to the death of 26-year-old Nicholas McKiernan. Both men went to the same high school and were part of a group of friends who frequently used heroin together. When Gaworecki was arrested, police found a syringe that he had been using, evidence of his own substance use disorder.  

“Whenever we can, we separate out dealers and users,” Broome County District Attorney Steve Cornwell said during a press conference. “That’s the goal. But when someone is selling drugs that kill somebody, then they can expect to be charged. We’re going to find those people and target that investigation to get to the root of the crime.”  There were 95 overdose deaths in Broome County in 2016, and 84 of them led to homicide investigations, according to local news reports.

Far from a kingpin, let alone an actual dealer, Gaworecki bought heroin in small quantities for himself and his friends to use, according to multiple sources interviewed by The Appeal. This is typical of small drug user networks: To support their habit, addicted users often buy a few extra bags for their friends, and vice versa. On a different day, it could have easily been Gaworecki who overdosed on a bag he bought from a friend.

Yet, it’s much easier for prosecutors to target small-time dealers than major dealers, since the latter strategically insulate themselves from activities that could get them caught. The further removed dealers are from their product, the more difficult it becomes for prosecutors to make their case.

Researchers at Northeastern University’s Health in Justice initiative, a team that includes these reporters, analyzed a random sample of drug-induced homicide cases reported in the media, and found that fewer than half the cases involved a traditional dealer-user relationship. Scores of these prosecutions involved a desperate user like Gaworecki, who would benefit tremendously from substance use disorder treatment, instead of lengthy prison sentences.   

Graphic of the Relationship between Accused and Victim

Myth: Drug-induced homicide prosecutions are part of a broader “public health approach.”

Reality: Threatening stiff penalties is making the crisis worse, and people of color are more likely to be targeted by punitive drug laws.

Today’s opioid crisis might be the deadliest on record, but it is not the first time drugs have embroiled the country. America’s perception of substance use disorder throughout history has always been closely tied to who is using.

Perhaps the biggest myth believed by the many people is that the opioid crisis has ushered in a sympathetic, “public health approach” to dealing with drug using. Some have posited that the approach shifted when drug was portrayed as penetrating rural and white communities, despite research showing that the overdose death rate among African Americans is higher than whites in several cities and states.

Graphic of the Median Sentencing by Accused Race

Politicians and police say they have learned their lesson from the crack-cocaine era, where people of color were arrested en masse for simple possession. But the Health in Justice research shows that people of color are more frequently targeted in drug-induced homicide cases than white users and dealers, part of a broader pattern of the justice system’s selective application of the law. The disparate impact of drug-induced homicide laws on people of color is a reminder that despite the newfound compassion, American drug policy still punishes people with substance use disorder.

Resource: Since defendants in drug-induced homicide cases are often drug users themselves, they rarely have the legal resources to adequately fight the case. Researchers at Northeastern University’s Health In Justice Action Lab have put together a defense toolkit for attorneys trying to help their clients.

North Carolina Sheriff Criticized For Unleashing K-9 Dogs On Black People Faces Re-Election

Advocates say that Sheriff Donnie Harrison is unfit for a fifth term because of such abusive practices as well as his office's cooperation with ICE.

Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison
Photo illustration by Anagraph/Photo by Wake County Sheriff/Twitter

North Carolina Sheriff Criticized For Unleashing K-9 Dogs On Black People Faces Re-Election

Advocates say that Sheriff Donnie Harrison is unfit for a fifth term because of such abusive practices as well as his office's cooperation with ICE.

The Appeal is spotlighting sheriffs across the country who are seeking re-election on Nov. 6. The rest of the series is available here.

Sade Tomlinson was running scared in the woods. A K-9 dog was pursuing the Black then-17-year-old, who, along with friends, had taken off after their car crashed. But the dog’s handler, a sheriff’s deputy, said that he got caught in a mess of briars and logs, and the dog broke free, continuing its pursuit. Then the animal attacked.

“The dog ripped off my pants, so I was out there with no pants on,” Tomlinson told a local TV station. “It started attacking me, biting on my legs,” she said. The dog continued biting Tomlinson to the point where she could no longer feel her legs. “I just stopped fighting because there wasn’t anything else I could do.”

The attack on Tomlinson happened in August 2016, but it wasn’t the first of its kind that year in Wake County, North Carolina. In April, a deputy unleashed a K-9 dog on Kyron Dwain Hinton, a Black man with mental health issues. Hinton had been apprehended by police after he was found standing in the middle of a busy road. Though Hinton informed officers he was “having a crisis,” two state troopers, a sheriff’s deputy, and the police dog converged on Hinton when he failed to follow orders to get on the ground.

On dashcam audio, released to the public, Hinton can be heard crying out “Yahweh help” and “God is good” as the dog mauls him. After the attack, during which Hinton said he suffered 21 bites, a broken nose and a fractured eye socket, he was sent to a hospital and then to the county jail, charged with disorderly conduct, resisting a public officer, and assault on a law enforcement animal.

Sheriff Donnie Harrison, who has served four terms and is up for re-election on Nov. 6, was defiant after the incident. When prosecutors dropped the charges against Hinton, Harrison questioned the move, and he accused activists of trying to “exploit” the case when they raised concerns over the dashcam footage. And of Tomlinson’s case, Harrison said, “We never want to hurt anybody, but we have a job to do.”

Under Harrison’s leadership, Black residents have consistently born the brunt of aggressive policing. Though Black people are just over a fifth of the population, they account for 55 percent of use of force incidents since 2002, according Open Data Policing.

Unleashing police dogs on Black residents harks back to deeply violent days in the American South, says Rolanda Byrd, executive director of Raleigh PACT, an anti-police-brutality group. But under Harrison, she says, it is accepted as “a normal circumstance on how they [sheriff’s deputies] choose to pursue people.”

Byrd also criticizes Harrison for his opposition to a civilian oversight board, which the sheriff has suggested is unnecessary. “We try not to hide anything,” he said at a public forum hosted this month by PACT and three other community organizations. “Those of you that have been by my office know that you’re always welcome to talk to me.” But Byrd argues the board would help correct racial disparities in policing. “If you know that these things are going on, and you don’t feel there’s a need for change, there’s something wrong with this system,” she said. “The community needs this board.”

Gerald Baker, who’s challenging Harrison for sheriff, shares some of Byrd’s accountability concerns and supports a civilian review board with subpoena powers. “There’s so many issues that are going on in the sheriff’s office that you don’t know about,” he said at the forum. “And issues, when they come to play, are not being dealt with properly depending on who you are.”

Though Baker is a department veteran, he has publicly called for reforms at the Wake County Sheriff’s Office, including ending an agreement with ICE in its jails. Under Harrison’s leadership, Wake County has been one of the largest jail systems nationwide to maintain a 287(g) agreement with ICE, which allows police to screen jailed immigrants for documentation and hold any undocumented arrestees for ICE agents. Baker has spoken out against the agreement on social media and has said its “impact has been breaking up families.”

Neither Baker nor Harrison responded to The Appeal’s request for comment.

If recent electoral trends in the county are any indication, Baker could have a shot at winning the race. Wake County leaned Republican when Harrison took office in 2002, but it swung heavily Democratic in the 2016 election. And the county is big, encompassing Raleigh and over one million residents, many of whom are not white.

The race has also attracted the attention of advocacy groups. The ACLU is spending $100,000 to air an ad about both candidates that highlights Harrison’s collaboration with ICE. Another ACLU ad highlights the Hinton case, juxtaposing images of a civil rights era police dog attack with video of the K-9 dog unleashed on Hinton. Baker, on the other hand, has won an endorsement from the state’s labor confederation, the North Carolina State AFL-CIO.

And Byrd, the activist, says that locals are paying close attention to the race, particularly in the Black community. “I’ve seen a lot about it on Facebook,” she said. “A lot of people are talking about it and pushing for Baker in the Black community.”

More in Explainers

The high costs of low pay for public defenders

The high costs of low pay for public defenders

What you’ll read today

  • Spotlight: The high costs of low pay for public defenders

  • A Trump favorite for his anti-immigration stance, Maryland sheriff now faces re-election

  • In Allegheny County, people arrested with cell phones can be charged with ‘possessing instruments of crime’

  • Community supervision is the largest part of the correctional system

  • NYC voter guide ignores executive order, says people with felony convictions can’t vote

  • Prosecutors call for safe consumption sites, not incarceration

In the Spotlight

The high costs of low pay for public defenders

Of course, no one becomes a public defender for the money. But unless you come from family wealth you still need a salary that, at a minimum, covers the cost of housing; payments on law school and other student debt; and childcare and/or support for parents or other family members who may count on you. You should also be paid enough that you can afford therapy and other forms of support while doing work that entails compassion fatigue and secondary trauma. And you should be able to, one day, put something aside in savings.

It is a given that pay for social justice lawyers is a slim fraction of the pay that lawyers in the private sector will earn. But what was illuminated at a New York City Council hearing last week was how large the gap is even between public defenders and prosecutors, whose salaries are city-funded, and lawyers who are directly employed by the city. What was made clear was that the underpayment of people who work in public defender offices, including those who are not attorneys, is a choice by the city and one that has dire consequences for the diversity and quality of those who become public defenders and the longevity of public defense careers.

The City Council Committee on Justice system, chaired by Rory Lancman who is running for Queens district attorney, held a hearing (the full video of which is online) on pay parity for public defenders and prosecutors with city government lawyers. Two charts prepared before the hearing show first, the pay disparities even between public defenders and prosecutors (who were also making the argument for their pay parity with city lawyers) and second, how pay disparities widen over the course of careers, leading to roughly $20,000 pay disparities (or 20 percent).

[Source: City Limits]

Representatives from all the major public defense providers testified. They explained why pay parity is so urgently needed:

Public defender salaries exclude lawyers who are from the communities most affected by the criminal legal system: Shannon Cumberbatch, director of hiring, diversity and community engagement at the Bronx Defenders, described how low salaries put public defender careers out of reach for people who do not come from generational wealth and whose backgrounds and life experiences are most likely to reflect those of the clients served by public defense offices.“Pay disparity in public defense disproportionately affects aspiring defenders from the communities that we serve,” Cumberbatch said. “It affects those from immigrant backgrounds, from racially and socioeconomically marginalized backgrounds. Individuals from these backgrounds are overrepresented in the court system and underrepresented in the court system as defenders. This is not because of lack of interest.” [Harry DiPrinzio / City Limits]

And the same concerns appear repeatedly: “Every aspect of my role from mentoring and fostering interest in public defense careers in students early on to extending offers … to saying goodbye to my colleagues who no longer found this career to be sustainable for them … I am hearing the same question over and over: While I am incredibly committed to supporting my clients and their community how am I supposed to support myself while on this salary?” Cumberbatch said. [City Council hearing, testimony of Shannon Cumberbatch]

The situation is as bad, if not worse, for non-attorney staff at public defender offices. Tina Luongo, chief defender of the Legal Aid Society said: “If you think the problems are tough for public defenders who are attorneys so is it for social workers, paralegals … the rate of turnover is incredible … I can’t find people to fill those positions because we can’t pay enough.”  [City Council hearing, testimony of Tina Luongo]

Meeting family obligations can be inconsistent with remaining a public defender: Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS) conducted interviews and focus groups with attorneys on staff. These revealed that, “‘[a] common topic of concern” was being able to afford having children. All of the defenders interviewed on the subject said they had wondered whether “being a public defender is incompatible with the goals” of financial stability and starting a family and all “expressed a profound sadness at having to confront this question.” One lawyer had recently decided to leave BDS and when interviewed said: “I have been a public defender for eight years and it is more than just a job—being a public defender is my identity. … I had to choose between doing this work and starting a family. I chose starting a family.” [Testimony of Danielle Regis] One woman testified that after eight years as a public defender, in order to make ends meet with two children and a mortgage she needs to have roommates. She called it “a disgrace.” [RJ Vogt / Law 360]

Luongo testified that the city is aware of the costs of living in New York City and the salaries needed—and its awareness is reflected in the salaries it pays its attorneys. “At the 10-year mark corporation counsel pays their lawyers $108,000 a year. That is $18,000 a year more than I am able to pay an attorney at the same level.” Luongo went on to say: “Our inability to pay has everything to do with how we are funded.” She said that defenders have said this “not once, not twice, but a hundred times “ to the Mayor’s Office on Criminal Justice MOCJ. [City Council hearing, testimony of Tina Luongo]

Council member Lancman discussed the disparities between public defender or prosecutor salaries and those paid to city Law Department employees and how it “comes as no surprise that city agencies have better retention rates than our district attorney offices and indigent service providers.” [RJ Vogt / Law 360]

There are easy answers: Lancman has proposed a task force that would study pay parity, an idea many defenders dismissed. Instead they called for using the city Law Department’s pay scale and called on the City Council to create a loan forgiveness program for public interest advocates. After the hearing, Lancman told Law 360 that the task force could be considered down the road if necessary but “all of our attention and focus really needs to be on getting the money out of the administration in the next six months or so.”

Ultimately, the failure to adequately fund public defense is, as one defender made clear, a reflection of the value the city places on the right to a lawyer. Akin Akinjiola said: “Why do you think our work as attorneys deserves less? I’ve been racking my brain to figure out how you would justify the disparity, and the only conclusion I can come to is that you don’t value our clients and their constitutional rights to a defense.”  [RJ Vogt / Law 360]

Stories From The Appeal

Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins [Photo illustration by Anagraph/Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]

A Trump Favorite for His Anti-Immigration Stance, Maryland Sheriff Now Faces Re-Election. Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins seeks a fourth term as critics blast him for a record that includes poor jail conditions, in-custody suicides, and the deaths of two young people at the hands of his deputies. [Raven Rakia]

In Allegheny County, People Arrested With Cell Phones Can Be Charged With ‘Possessing Instruments of Crime.’ Advocates say these charges endanger sex workers and urge the police to stop using them. [Melissa Gira Grant]

Stories From Around the Country

Community supervision is the largest part of the correctional system: In 2016, there were twice as many people under community supervision as there were in local, state, and federal correctional facilities combined. From 1980 to 2016, the number of people on probation or parole in the U.S. increased 239 percent (peaking in 2007), leaving 1 in 55 adults (2 percent of the entire population) under community supervision. In Georgia, the rate is 1 in 18 while in New Hampshire it is 1 in 186, reflecting huge differences between states. These are the findings of a new analysis by Pew Charitable Trusts. Nearly 350,000 people under supervision are sent each year to jail or prison for, often technical, parole or probation violations. Crime rates and the number of people under community supervision dropped in 37 states between 2007 and 2016, but more needs to be done to “prioritize supervision and treatment resources for higher-risk individuals while removing lower-risk people from supervision caseloads.” [Jake Horowitz / Pew Charitable Trusts]

NYC voter guide ignores executive order, says people with felony convictions can’t vote: Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order in April 2018 that created a mechanism for restoring voting rights to people on parole through the granting of conditional pardons. Yet the New York City Campaign Finance Board’s 2018 Voter Guide wrongly states that people convicted of a felony can vote only after completing parole. After people on Twitter called out the error, the board responded, acknowledging its mistake. But advocates believe the damage has been done and criticized the city for not taking re-enfranchisement of people on parole seriously. The board has still not updated its website (since 2016) regarding voting rules for people who have been convicted of crimes. [Kadia Goba / Bklyner]

Prosecutors call for safe consumption sites, not incarceration: Roughly 200 people in the U.S. die each day from a drug overdose. Advocating harm reduction, Miriam Krinsky of Fair and Just Prosecution and Dan Satterberg, chief prosecuting attorney in Seattle, argue for prosecutors to pursue treatment rather than charges for drug users, police to change enforcement approaches, and the development of safe consumption sites, which have been proven to save lives as well as money at more than 100 sites in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere. They describe a visit that a delegation of U.S. prosecutors made to Vancouver in October and how “overdose prevention sites offered a glimmer of hope.” While a number of prosecutors around the country have started changing their practices and have supported overdose prevention sites, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has argued that such sites violate federal law and that the Department of Justice would “meet the opening of any injection site with swift and aggressive action”—a stance reminiscent of the arguments once made against needle exchange programs. [Miriam Krinsky and Dan Satterberg / USA Today] See also In Vermont, a prosecutor up for re-election is calling for the establishment of safe consumption sites. [Molly Walsh / Seven Days]

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