Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?

Our mission is to reverse the trend of mass incarceration in Colorado. We are a coalition of nearly 7,000 individual members and over 100 faith and community organizations who have united to stop perpetual prison expansion in Colorado through policy and sentence reform.

Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.

If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Harm Reduction: A Practical Solution

Here's a little from CCJRC's March 2008 Newsletter:

A smallish unremarkable house on the west side of Denver bustles
with activity as people who have unique problems related to their
addictions come in for coffee, a place to rest, relate and regroup. This
house is home to the Harm Reduction Project.

The Harm Reduction Project opened the Denver drop-in center in
June of 2002. It is funded by the Colorado Department of Health and
Environment to provide HIV prevention and education to injection drug
users. They also distribute harm reduction tools to program participants
and community-based organizations, both locally and nationally.
These tools include: condoms and other safer sex materials, vitamins,
hygiene kits, clothing and food, safer injection kits, literature on
decreasing high-risk activities, and syringe disposal. The other services
they offer are around group level intervention, peer driven intervention,
motivational interviewing, risk reduction counseling, rapid HIV
counseling and testing, hepatitis testing, referrals, art therapy,
acupuncture, health education and outreach, and community gardening.

Harm reduction itself is a public health philosophy that is intended to
be an alternative to the prohibitionist model in addressing high-risk
lifestyles choices. One of the fallouts from the drug war is the unintended
consequence of the spread of communicable disease. The
principal theme behind harm reduction is that some people have and
always will participate in high-risk behaviors that are associated with
illicit drug use.

According to Harm Reduction: Pragmatic Strategies for Managing
High-Risk Behaviors, the main objective of a harm reduction philosophy is to
stave off the potential dangers and health risks associated
with high risk behaviors. Some harm reduction strategies have been in place for years. Designated driver campaigns, seat belt laws, the use of condoms,
methadone programs, and smoking cessation programs are widely accepted. Some more controversial programs are trying to gain a foothold here in America.

There have been very effective AIDS reduction programsin Europe that have involved clean needle exchange programs, clean injection sites and the legalization of certain drugs.
The Harm Reduction Project is working to get policies changed in Colorado, like getting the needle exchange ban lifted. There is only one place in the state where one can exchange dirty needles for clean ones. During the rise of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980's, Boulder County usurped state and federal bans by invoking archaic public health emergency laws.
Boulder continues to be the only place in Colorado where that program exists, but the project is shaky because it is always under the gun of interpretation by local law enforcement professionals.

Harm reduction is not anti-abstinence. Abstinence may well be the goal but the reality is that harm reduction allows there to be a continuum of care prior to the individual decision to abstain from high-risk behaviors. Harm-reductionists simply realize that the prohibition
of drugs is discriminatory, ineffective and counter-productive.

The United States has historically operated from a moral model when trying to curb social problems. A Puritanical, abstinence-only solution obviously isn't one that has been highly successful. We have seen the frightening spread of HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C by
injection drug users over the last 25 years which may have been controlled through different policy choices.

“Nearly 30 percent of new AIDS cases in the United States can be traced to the sharing of
syringes by injection drug users,"

according to theU.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But most states continue to restrict access to sterile syringes by enforcing "drug paraphernalia"
laws against needle-exchange program participants and regulating the purchase and sale of syringes in pharmacies. “ This fact shows how there is a direct correlation
between the spread of communicable diseases and the policies driving the way we deal with people who are afflicted with the disease of addiction.

Click here for the entire newsletter

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