Drug War Dragnet: Surveillance, Criminalization, and Drug War Logic within and beyond Community Supervision

June 7, 2024

Drug war surveillance practices – like drug testing and mandated treatment – trap people in a cycle of punishment and cut people off from services and care.

A new paper, co-authored by Drug Policy Alliance’s Melissa Moore and Aliza Cohen and originally published in the Federal Sentencing Reporter, examines the dynamics driving overdose deaths, criminal legal system involvement, and the drug war infiltration of people’s everyday lives.

While incarceration receives more media and academic attention, almost twice as many people—3.7 million, or one in every sixty-nine U.S. adults—are under community supervision. Probation and parole are commonly understood as “alternatives to incarceration” or “lenient sentences,” but people on supervision endure constant monitoring under the threat of incarceration.

Drug war policies and practices have deeply shaped probation and parole. Regardless of someone’s original sentence, abstinence from drugs, drug testing, submission to warrantless searches, and court-ordered treatment are routine features of supervision. The supposed goal of community supervision is to ensure successful reintegration; yet drug war surveillance enacts extensive barriers, while not reducing drug use or drug-related harms like overdose.

In order to ensure health, financial security, and overall well-being of those under supervision, policymakers, probation and parole officers, clinicians, service providers, and researchers must work to identify and remove barriers to care, including routine drug testing, substandard or forced substance use disorder treatment, and poor-quality services and support.

Read Drug War Dragnet: Surveillance, Criminalization, and Drug War Logic within and beyond Community Supervision.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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