Last Sunday, 60 Minutes aired an investigation of the use of young people as confidential informants featuring the story of SSDP alumna Rachel Hoffman. Frequently, young people who are busted for minor drug offenses are pressured in to becoming informants without the guidance of trusted adults, advice from an attorney, or a full understanding of their rights and the likely outcomes of their choices. Frightened, pressured, and alone, they agree to participate in a scheme to catch more “bad guys”. But the truth is this scheme will, at best, catch their friends in the same web or, at worst, expose them to the violence inherent in the unregulated drug market or even death.
“Joe”, an SSDP member at a U.S. college, is one of those people who was busted allegedly in possession of a small amount of marijuana concentrate. “Joe” is facing a variety of charges including drug manufacturing, a very serious charge, so he asked us not to use his name. Just a few states away, marijuana concentrate is manufactured and sold by business people who are celebrated on the covers of magazines, but “Joe” was told he could face up to 6 years in prison. Without the opportunity to consult with a trusted adult or attorney, “Joe” was pressured to participate in the police department’s confidential informant program to avoid being charged. If he were charged, it’s unlikely he’d face 6 years in prison as he was told, but he would certainly face suspension or expulsion from his university, unmanageable fines, some jail time, and a lifetime of curtailed opportunities due to the felony charge.
Thankfully, “Joe” was able to work out another arrangement with the police and has neither been charged or forced to participate in a drug purchase. Since then, he has joined SSDP and is working to make sure other students don’t face the same kind of fate. You can join “Joe” and other SSDP members to stop this devastating practice.
Encourage your local and state authorities to adopt a policy which protects young people. People under 21 should never be used as informants in drug cases because the risks are just too great, but even short of an outright ban, authorities can minimize risks for young people. Mayors, city councils, police and sheriffs’ departments, drug task forces, and state legislatures should have policies in place to ensure people under 21 are fully advised of their rights and the likely outcomes of prosecution, have had opportunity to consult with trusted adults and an attorney, are not forced into situations outside of their scope of experience or encouraged to undermine the strength of the university community by betraying other students in undercover operations.
Hold your school accountable for student safety. Many universities coordinate with — or even fund — drug task forces and law enforcement agencies which use students as confidential informants. Investigate your school’s relationship with law enforcement, then work with your Outreach Coordinator to develop a campaign plan to put a halt to dangerous drug investigations in your community.
Educate your friends and community about the tactics used by law enforcement to recruit confidential informants. Make sure you Know Your Rights and understand them well. Host a campus screening and discussion with legal experts featuring Sunday’s 60 Minutes segment, 10 Rules for Dealing with Police, or Busted: The Citizen’s Guide to Surviving Police Encounters.
Support SSDP’s efforts to protect young people from the drug war. Make a one-time or monthly gift today so our 300 chapters can work on changing confidential informant policies and other policies that purport to protect young people but actually put them directly in harm’s way.