Criminal Justice Reform

The United States not only imprisons more people than any other nation in the world, but also criminalizes entire communities with an over-reliance on aggressive policing and other criminal legal tools to solve social problems. This system causes a great deal of harm to families and communities, impacting many people who have never been charged or even arrested for a criminal law violation.

These policies create and funnel millions of Americans into a permanent second-class status due to the broad range of consequences of criminal justice system involvement. People with a criminal or even an arrest record for drugs face lifelong barriers to housing, employment, parental rights and permanent immigration status. 

Since the 1970s, drug war practices have led to the marginalization of millions of Americans – disproportionately poor people and people of color – while failing to reduce problematic drug use, drug-related disease transmission, overdose deaths, or the violence associated with some drug markets. Criminalizing millions of people for drug offenses has created public and for-profit systems of punishment that have bankrupted us morally.

The Drug Policy Alliance is committed to identifying and promoting health-centered alternatives to harmful, punitive drug laws. We are working to remove criminal penalties for drug possession and use, improve police-community relationships and end aggressive law enforcement practices, reverse draconian sentencing laws that result in discriminatory outcomes, and eliminate life-long barriers to social participation faced by people with even a minor drug conviction.

Key Issues

Drug Decriminalization
Eliminating the criminal penalties for drug use and possession is a critical step to reforming the criminal legal system. We should treat problematic drug use as a health issue, not a criminal one.

Mass Incarceration & Criminalization
Sending people to prison is a terrible consequence of our unjust drug laws – but the criminal legal system has many harmful effects that extend far beyond prison walls. Our misguided drug laws and culture of punishment criminalize and marginalize millions of Americans, particularly people of color, even outside the formal criminal legal system.

Policing & the Drug War
Policing is long overdue for a disruption. The drug war has made modern police forces more powerful and more lethal. Police have been given unchecked power to patrol schools and communities, invade people's homes, and use aggressive tactics and military weapons, which in too many instances have led to killings of Black and Latinx people.

Race & the Drug War
The drug war has produced profoundly unequal outcomes across racial groups. We need to end discriminatory policies that target people of color.

Women & the Drug War
Women are now a fast growing segment of the U.S. prison population, largely because of draconian drug laws. We must work to reduce the devastating effects of the drug war on women, particularly women of color.

Pregnant People & the Drug War
Pregnant people are uniquely vulnerable to criminal justice or child welfare involvement especially if they have admitted to drug use or have had a positive drug test at birth. The criminalization of pregnant people puts both parent and fetus at greater risk by creating barriers to child custody, drug treatment, and prenatal care.

LGBTQIA+ People & the Drug War
Drug laws disproportionately punish and neglect the needs of LGBTQIA+ communities. We must push for policies that respond to their particular needs.

Asset Forfeiture Reform
DPA has long played a leading role in forfeiture reform – calling for abolishing civil forfeiture entirely and supporting efforts to reform the practice.

Criminal Justice Reform