Statement on the Historic Dismissal of 21,587 Drug Convictions

Families for Justice as Healing is a founding member of the No Drug Arrests Collective.

The No Drug Arrests Collective joins people across Massachusetts in celebrating the recent dismissal of 21,587convictions tainted by the Hinton Drug Lab Scandal. This victory ensures that victims of the Hinton Lab crisis will experience some long-awaited relief. This historic dismissal is a step forward, but it is not justice.

The District Attorneys are ultimately to blame for both of the drug lab scandals. These tens of thousands of tainted convictions are the inevitable result of a system that prosecutes hundreds of thousands of people every year.  The media has framed the scandals as extraordinary, but the reality is that misconduct and abuse of power are central to the War on Drugs that is waged daily against Black, Brown, and poor people and communities.

In reference to victims of the Hinton Lab scandal, Suffolk County District Attorney Dan Conley said, “Many of the defendants in those cases have significant criminal histories, including crimes of violence, separate from the Dookhan-related drug convictions…If there had been evidence that any of these defendants was actually innocent, we would not have hesitated to dismiss the case outright and exonerate the defendant immediately.” The No Drug Arrests Collective condemns the practice of relying on civil rights abuses and denying due process rights in order to secure convictions, regardless of the crime a person is accused of committing or their criminal history. Drug convictions do not achieve the goals of public safety or community wellbeing.

Only the chemists have been punished for scandals that stretched across the Commonwealth and spanned almost a decade. Two women were scapegoated and went to prison for their roles in the scandals.  The District Attorneys, on the other hand, have not accepted responsibility and have made it clear they do not respect the people they prosecute or the communities they come from.

Instead, the District Attorneys fought against a remedy for more than five years, wasting taxpayer dollars while ignoring the devastating impact these convictions had on thousands of our neighbors. Since we already know we cannot arrest and prosecute our way out of the problem of drug addiction, prosecutors should have dismissed or diverted all of these cases in the first place.  We must stop arresting and prosecuting people for drugs. We need healing, housing, and treatment and we can’t get what we need as long as we continue to rely on and pour resources into police, prosecutions, and prisons.

While District Attorney Conley claims, “Prison cells should be reserved for serious, violent, high-risk and chronic offenders. That’s the philosophy and the strategy we have followed for many, many years,” we know that right now across the Commonwealth there are thousands of people in jail simply because they cannot afford bail or because they could not pay court fees or probation fines. Some people are in cells because they violated conditions of probation that were nearly impossible to meet, including people who failed a drug test while struggling with addiction. Thousands more people are in cages for crimes of survival that come along with drug use.  Hundreds of mothers who should be eligible for alternatives are in jail or prison and separated from their children. And with such limited options for housing, healing, and employment when returning to the community, we understand the cycles that cause people to become so-called “chronic offenders.”

What about the people whose cases were not dismissed? In an attempt to justify protecting the tainted convictions, DA Conley claimed people whose cases were not dismissed have “more than 60 entries on [their] record[s]. When given the opportunity for rehabilitation in a community setting, these defendants have violated probation an average of seven times each.  They are neither low-level nor non-violent, and they stand at the intersection of drugs and violence.”

Using tainted evidence to convict people and then continuing to punish them after their sentence is not a viable violence prevention strategy. The remedies for violence and high rates of recidivism are not mandatory minimums nor enhanced sentences nor keeping people behind bars. District Attorney Conley and his colleagues should not use drug convictions as means of locking up people who otherwise could not be convicted of crimes.

The solutions are more complex and require a total transformation of the criminal punishment system: community-based transformative justice alternatives, accessible housing, educational opportunities, dignified employment, and quality mental and physical health care for people and their families.

District Attorneys are elected officials. When they run for reelection, these prosecutors must be held accountable for the policies that led to the drug lab scandals and for their refusal to do the right thing until they were forced to by the Supreme Judicial Court.

Moving forward, we will continue organizing for full and immediate dismissal of the remaining Hinton drug lab scandal convictions, full and immediate dismissal of the Amherst drug lab scandal convictions, reparations for people convicted with tainted evidence, and an end to drug arrests and prosecutions. Only when we divest from police, prosecutions, and prisons will we have the resources to invest in what communities need to live well.

If you or anyone you know has a drug conviction in one of these counties between 2003 and 2012 – Call the Dookhan Case Hotline 1-888-999-2881 to find out if your drug conviction is being vacated and dismissed.

If you’ve been personally impacted by the drug lab scandals – we invite you to reach out to us so we can organize together.

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