Promoting Expungements to Minimize the Adverse Impact of Substance Use Disorder Criminalization
16 Pages Posted: 3 Nov 2020
Date Written: September 1, 2020
Research has already documented the irreparable harm of the criminalization of drugs. In the United States, these policies have led to disproportionate rates of incarceration of black men, separated children from their parents in foster care and custody proceedings, and often left people unable to secure employment and housing. Criminalization has also had harmful impacts from a public health perspective. Substance use disorder is a medical condition with established criteria for diagnosis. Criminalizing SUD instead of treating it often leaves people without access to treatment for their condition. Criminalization of drug paraphernalia possession has also undermined the efficacy of public health strategies, such as overdose immunity laws and syringe service programs.
Many advocates and scholars across human rights, public health, and other disciplines argue that decriminalization and legalization of drugs is necessary. While some states and localities have begun to decriminalize and legalize drugs, most do not. And, in many jurisdictions, this would be unrealistic in the near future. Indiana law, for example, makes possession of drug paraphernalia a misdemeanor offense. The state legislature in fact elevated syringe possession to a felony in 2015. What other legal strategies are available when decriminalization and legalization are not?
This article explores expungement as a tool in mitigating the harmful impacts of criminalizing substance use disorder. It discusses the inadequacies of current criminal-based strategies for responding to the SUD crisis and the public health impacts of criminalization and describes expungement law generally and provides an in-depth summary of Indiana’s expungement laws. Given the substantial nuances within expungement law, this article provides analysis on how they can be best structured to promote their use. It argues that Indiana could implement a variety of strategies to promote expungement laws and thereby support individuals with substance use disorder.
Keywords: substance use disorder, criminalization, criminal record, expungement, collateral consequences, social determinants of health
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