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New Toolkit Offers Prosecutors Crucial Opportunities for a Less Punitive, More Effective Response to Drug Offenses and Related Policy Approach

New Toolkit Offers Prosecutors Crucial Opportunities for a Less Punitive, More Effective Response to Drug Offenses and Related Policy Approach 

October 6,  2021 (New York, NY) – As overdose deaths reach historic heights, global health organization Vital Strategies  and the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (IIP) are launching a cutting edge toolkit, “A New Approach: A Prosecutor’s Guide to Advancing a Public Health Response to Drug Use” to transform how prosecutors respond to people who use drugs. Based on principles of harm reduction, public health, and racial justice, this groundbreaking new resource puts tools in the hands of prosecutors to change course from the failed approaches of the past that have filled our prisons and jails and led to the current overdose crisis.    

The U.S. leads the globe in incarcerating its citizens, with 1 out of 5 prisoners in the world being incarcerated in the U.S.It’s estimated that up to 65% percent of the U.S. prison population has an active substance use disorder and at least 20% were under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of their offense. With growing recognition that the war on drugs and mass criminalization have caused profound harm to individuals and communities, “A New Approach: A Prosecutor’s Guide to Advancing a Public Health Response to Drug Use” equips prosecutors with evidence-based approaches that center health at each stage of a criminal case. 

“For far too long, prosecutors and the criminal legal system as a whole have failed to recognize drug use and substance use disorder as a public health issue. This outdated and counterproductive framework has contributed to mass incarceration and systemic racial injustice,” said Alissa Marque Heydari, Deputy Director of the IIP. “We hope this new guide offers prosecutors a new path, away from traditional models of punishment and towards a model that uplifts treatment, racial equity, and healthy communities.”  

The document covers diverse and critical areas of the prosecutor’s role, including: 

·       Culture change, legislative advocacy, and partnering with pre-arrest diversion and prevention programs 

·       Decision of whether to prosecute and what to charge, including harms of mandatory minimums 

·       Drug courts: common pitfalls and best practices 

·       Plea negotiations and decisions not to pursue cases after investigation 

·       An alternative to traditional drug prosecution 

·       Post-conviction including resentencing and expungement 

 “A New Approach: A Prosecutor’s Guide to Advancing a Public Health Response to Drug Use” will be accompanied by a series of videos and an upcoming webinar on October 26, 2021. The video testimonials feature prosecutors, people directly impacted by the war on drugs and incarceration, and experts who reinforce principles and strategies from the guide to show the positive and life-saving impacts of a health-centered approach towards drug policy and people who use drugs. 

“Prosecutors wield immense power within the criminal legal system — from the decision of whether to proceed with an individual case to weighing in on systemic drug policy reform,” said Kate Boulton, Senior Legal Technical Advisor at Vital Strategies. “This guide is a much-needed resource for critical junctures of a prosecutor’s decision-making to transform the criminal legal system’s response to people who use drugs, from punishment and stigmatization to health promotion, harm reduction, and racial justice.” 

On October 26 at 12:30pm (ET), the IIP will host a webinar launch for the Guide and video series. 

About the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice (IIP)

The IIP provides a collaborative national platform that brings together prosecutors, policy experts, and the communities they serve to promote data-driven strategies, cutting-edge scholarship and innovative thinking. The IIP is dedicated to criminal justice that promotes community-centered standards of safety, fairness and dignity. 

About Vital Strategies 

Vital Strategies is a global health organization that believes every person should be protected by a strong public health system. The organization works with governments and civil society in 73 countries to design and implement evidence-based strategies that tackle their most pressing public health problems. Vital Strategies’ goal is to see governments adopt promising interventions at scale as rapidly as possible. For more information visit

About Vital Strategies’ Overdose Prevention Program 

In November 2018, Bloomberg Philanthropies announced a $50 million investment to address the country’s overdose crisis. The initiative—a first-of-its-kind partnership between Vital Strategies, Pew Charitable Trusts, CDC Foundation, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health—is helping a number of high-burden states strengthen and scale up evidence-based, data-driven interventions to reduce risks of overdose and save lives. 

For Immediate Release: 
October 6, 2021 

Media Contacts:
Vital Strategies: Tony Newman; 646-335-5384