Blog of Rights

Conference to Address Public Health and Safety Approaches to Drug Policy

By Suzanne Ito, ACLU at 3:23pm

Tomorrow in Los Angeles, the ACLU is cosponsoring a conference that will gather public health and treatment professionals, academics, policy-makers and advocates to discuss a public health and safety approach to drug policy.

Allen Hopper, Litigation Director of the ACLU's Drug Law Reform Project, will be among the panelists at a discussion about substance abuse prevention efforts. He'll discuss ACLU cases that demonstrate the dangers of "zero tolerance" school policies like the one at Safford Middle School in Arizona, where 13-year-old student Savanna Redding was strip-searched by school officials after another student accused her of possessing ibuprofen tablets. Savana's case went all the way to the Supreme Court; in 2009, the high court found the school had violated her Fourth Amendment rights.

In another case in South Carolina, the ACLU represented the students of Stratford High School, where, in November 2003, a SWAT-team style raid recorded by school surveillance cameras, where police held guns to the heads of schoolchildren as they were handcuffed and held down on the ground while and their book bags were sniffed by dogs. At the end of the raid, no drugs were found, and no charges were filed. The ACLU sued the school and police officials for violating students' rights to be free from unlawful search and seizure, and use of excessive force. That case ended with a $1.6 million settlement for the students affected by the raid, and a new requirement that police must have either probable cause and pressing circumstances or voluntary consent in order to conduct law enforcement activity on school grounds.

In 2002, police conducted a suspicionless drug sweep of all K-12 classrooms at an elementary school in Wagner, South Dakota. As a German shepherd sniffed the classroom, in some classrooms, a school official told students that any sudden movement could cause the dog to attack. In one instance, the dog escaped its leash and terrorized kindergarteners by chasing them around the classroom. The case settled with a new prohibition against the use of drug dogs in the district’s schools when children are present.

These cases illustrate that school children may be harmed more by these types of excessive zero-tolerance and paramilitary drug prevention policies than by drugs themselves.

You can learn more about the conference here, and register on-site if you'd like to attend. Attendance is free and open to the public.

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