Alexandra Staropoli, Policy Manager, New Jersey, for the Drug Policy Alliance spoke to APN about their work:
What does the organization do?
The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) is a national nonprofit advocacy organization that works to reduce the harms associated with the drug war. DPA envisions a just society in which the use and regulation of drugs are grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. DPA is actively involved in the legislative process and seeks to roll back the excesses of the drug war, block new, harmful initiatives, and promote sensible drug policy reforms. Our work falls into three main categories: (1) promoting health, reducing harm; (2) reducing the role of criminalization; and (3) responsible marijuana regulation. DPA’s national headquarters is in NY and we have state offices in New Jersey, California, Colorado and New Mexico. We also have an Office of Legal Affairs in California and an Office of National Affairs in Washington, DC.
Who does the organization help?
DPA’s work in New Jersey has touched thousands of people across the state. Our New Solutions Campaign most directly impacts people living in poverty. Focused on criminal justice reform, our campaign motto is “promoting fair and effective criminal justice, strengthening families and communities.” We know that the criminal justice system in New Jersey disproportionately affects people of color and families living in difficult situations. Although Blacks and Latinos make up only 27% of the population, they make up 80% of the population of those who are incarcerated. We launched our New Solutions Campaign shortly after publishing a report on the hidden costs of incarceration. The report showed that as a state, New Jersey was spending more than 300 million dollars a year to incarcerate nonviolent drug offenders. The report also documented some more hidden costs, including the fact that individuals who have been incarcerated earn 30-40% less over their lifetime than individuals who have not been incarcerated. Through our advocacy campaigns in New Jersey, DPA works to dismantle the systems that threaten the stability of our families and communities and strives to achieve a more fair and effective criminal justice system.
What does poverty look like in the agency’s work?
In 2013, DPA published a report that showed that 75% of the 15,000 people held in New Jersey jails are there awaiting trial rather than serving a sentence—in other words, these people have not yet had their day in court, nor have they been convicted of a crime, but they remain behind bars. 40% of the people held are there solely because they cannot afford the bail that was set for them and 1,500 people cannot afford a bail of $2500 or less. So basically, even though these individuals are not a risk of flight or to public safety, they are incarcerated simply because they are poor.
Most recently, DPA worked, in collaboration with a host of coalition partners including APN, to address this issue and successfully pass bail reform in New Jersey. This important legislation will create a fairer, safer and more cost effective bail system by allowing the supervised pretrial release of low-risk individuals who do not threaten the security of their communities. Most importantly, under the new system, which will go into effect in January 2017, release decisions will be based on an individual’s risk level, not on their ability to pay bail. Families and communities will be strengthened under the new system because low-risk individuals will be able to remain with their families, keep their jobs, and get connected to services, including drug treatment, pending trial.
Why is DPA a part of APN?
DPA advocates for effective drug policies based on science, compassion, health and human rights in New Jersey and around the country. The failed war on drugs is intricately linked to the equally failed wars on people of color and people living in poverty. It would be impossible for DPA to do the work we do without recognizing the cross-section between failed drug policies, economic justice and race. APN plays such an important role in bridging the gap between so many New Jersey organizations that work on distinct subjects within the larger context of poverty and race. There is tremendous value in having such a network to help advance progressive policies in New Jersey and we are so thankful to have APN as a partner.