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Dispatches from the Still Raging Drug War

US Marshalls Office of Public Affairs

Dispatches from the Still Raging Drug War


Note: This first appeared in our daily In Justice Today newsletter. To get stories like these in your inbox every day, you can sign up here.

Media narratives around drug prosecutions have tended to overstate a turn away from punishment and towards rehabilitation for substance users. While this has been true in some instances, many jurisdictions are continuing to employ the same carceral “solutions,” and with increased fervor. Today, we shine a light on the district attorneys who made headlines over the weekend for their efforts to roll back, or deepen, our nation’s drug war.

  • A Prosecutor’s Unprecedented Expansion of Drug Prosecutions Causes Jail Overcrowding. Is the solution building a bigger jail? At a time when many state and local agencies are creating narrow means to keep people who commit drug offenses out of prison, Sebastian County (AR) Prosecutor Dan Shue is aggressively pursuing the opposite approach, overseeing a rapid expansion of drug prosecutions that has led to calls for a jail expansion. Whereas there were just 27 drug-related defendants in the local jail in 1970, that number has ballooned to thousands — particularly in light of an unprecedented two-year surge in drug prosecutions. Now, the jail “is overflowing from the issues created by drug arrests.” As a result, the jail has suffered “not just sewer system problems, but backlogged mail deliveries, lack of jail clothing and bedding, over occupancy in the hospital cells, fights among detainees in close quarters, and a general high level of stress on both sides of the bars.” Female prisoners have also complained of sexual harassment and “sleeping on floors of cells, some women without mats, directly in the way of cells, directly under toilets, or in an unsafe place due to overcrowding.” Unfortunately, this problem is likely to get worse. Rather than reexamine its prosecuting priorities, Shue, along with the county’s sheriff, are calling for new jails because “we have more arrests and criminal filings and people being sent to prison now more than ever.” [John Lovett / Times Record]
  • MD State’s Attorney brings county’s first overdose-as-homicide case.Anne Arundel County (MD) State’s Attorney Wes Adams has charged a man with involuntary manslaughter for an overdose death that occurred in January. Adams’ office and local law enforcement spent nine months of resources trying to track down the alleged source of the drugs that led to a fatal overdose. This carceral approach reflects a policy change within the office to focus on prosecution instead of treatment and diversion. As Anjali Hemphill explains, “In the past, fatal overdoses were treated more like a medical situation, but investigators said because of the county’s opioid epidemic they started treating them more like a crime scene so they can try to track down the supplier.” This is the first such prosecution in the county. State’s Attorney Adams’ brother died earlier this year from an overdose after he exited a 28-day inpatient treatment program. [Anjali Hemphill / Fox 5 News]
  • A 12-year-old found drugs in a house and overdosed, now her 60 year-old babysitter is charged with murder. In Columbus, Ohio, the office of Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Ron O’Brien has determined that a 60-year-old woman accused of killing a 12-year-old with fentanyl must remain behind bars on a $60,000 bond, even though prosecutors do not allege that she administered the fentanyl herself. Instead, they believe that the child found her drugs and overdosed on them while she was out of the house. Charging overdoses as homicide is unfortunately not new for O’Brien, as he charged at least seven people this way this last year alone. [WSYX / WTTE / ABC News 5]