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A risky drug plan

Eight years ago, Californians approved Proposition 36, which was designed to send drug offenders into treatment instead of prison.

Proposition 5, on the Nov. 4 ballot, would take this concept a step further. Many prosecutors and judges who deal with drug-related crime make a compelling case that this measure goes too far – and would work against its stated goal of reducing crime through treatment programs.

The measure would allocate $460 million to improve and expand treatment programs for Californians convicted of drug offenses or nonviolent crimes that may be related to an addiction.

One of the biggest criticisms of Prop. 5 is that it opens to door to allowing someone convicted of a long list of nonviolent crimes – burglary, embezzlement, arson, auto theft – to blame their addiction as a way to avoid prison. This claim is not entirely fair. In reality, a judge would have to approve the treatment option. The more likely application of this provision would be on serial petty thieves who keep cycling through the justice system because of small-time crimes to feed a habit.

However, there are many other disturbing flaws with Prop. 5. For example, none of this new money could be used for drug testing – one of the most critical components of a drug-treatment program. Judges also would lose one of their most valuable tools in confronting an addict who was balking at going into treatment: the threat of a short jail stint. Under Prop. 5, jail sanctions could be imposed only after multiple failures and multiple hearings.

Another of the highly criticized aspect of Prop. 5 is the narrowing of the parole period for drug offenders from the current three years to as little as six months. As San Mateo County District Attorney Jim Fox noted, the scrutiny of parole – with parolees subject to search and seizure at any moment – helps deter newly released drug dealers from getting back in the business.

The supporters of Prop. 5 argue that it makes no sense to send drug addicts to our overcrowded prisons when treatment is available. We agree in concept. But this measure puts far too much faith in treatment. A UCLA study of Prop. 36 showed that more than a quarter of the offenders failed to show up for rehab – and nearly half of those who did failed to complete their programs.

The formula in Proposition 5 would make a good pilot program in one or two counties to see how it would work. It’s important to note that many of the judges and prosecutors who deal with these types of cases every day are convinced of its flaws. To bring it statewide would represent an unacceptable risk.

Voters should reject Prop. 5.
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source: San Francisco Chronicle

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