Michael Douglas' Son to Serve Extra Prison Time for Using Drugs Behind Bars

On April 15, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals denied Cameron Douglas, the son of actor Michael Douglas, an appeal challenging his additional 54-month sentence for possessing drugs while imprisoned. The federal appeals court found that the federal trial court had not abused its discretion in sentencing Douglas to the increased prison time (see decision). The 34-year-old Douglas is now scheduled for release in 2018.

In January 2010, Southern District Court Judge Richard M. Berman sentenced Cameron Douglas to 60 months in prison followed by five years of supervised release. Douglas was facing a 10-year mandatory sentence but managed to knock off five years of the sentence by cooperating with the government. While imprisoned, Douglas, a longtime substance abuser, relapsed and began using drugs again. Instead of getting the treatment for his addiction which would have addressed his craving for drugs, Douglas did what many other imprisoned substance abusers do: they purchase the drugs they need from other prisoners. He was caught with very small amounts of opioids for personal use.

Yes, it’s true: there are drugs in prisons in the United States. The bewildered Judge Berman could not believe this and because of Douglas' relapse he whacked him with an unbelievable addition sentence of four and a half years, despite the prosecution’s request for just an additional two and a half years.

The way it was handled deviated from the typical way prisons deal with prisoners who are found with drugs. Most of the time it is handled administratively within the prison and the prisoner does not get charged with a crime. My take on this is that they made an example of Cameron Douglas because of his famous father.

Cameron Douglas appealed his new sentence as excessive and unjust. The Drug Policy Alliance agreed, and convened a wide array of leading medical and substance abuse treatment authorities to support Douglas' appeal in a friends-of-the-court brief.

In that brief, experts contended that Douglas' drug relapse behind bars was not surprising, noting the lack of adequate drug treatment in the nation's prisons and jails, particularly for opioid-dependent persons. They urged corrections officials to remedy this situation as a critical step to breaking the cycle of addiction that affects the great majority of people incarcerated in the U.S. Medical experts contended that Douglas’ drug relapse behind bars was not surprising, particularly given the fact that he, like so many other inmates suffering from addiction in American prisons and jails, are not provided any meaningful drug treatment during their incarceration. The brief argued that adequate treatment, not more jail time, is a better solution for both the individual and society as a whole.

The ruling to confirm the sentence flies in the face of a wide array of leading medical and substance abuse treatment authorities challenging what may be the longest-ever federal prison sentence imposed for the simple possession of drugs for personal use behind bars.

“Mr. Douglas' case, and his draconian sentence, underscores how our federal drug laws have departed so dramatically from medicine, reason, public health and common sense,” said Daniel Abrahamson, director of legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance and organizer of the amicus brief. “Those laws, and our prisons which fail to provide adequate treatment and rehabilitation services, cause as much or greater devastation to individuals, families and communities than drug use and abuse.”


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