Tuesday, June 2, 2009

state of crap: CA budget cuts detrimental to criminal justice system

As you already know, California's economy is in the crapper. What you probably didn't know is that the people of California recently voted on proposed measures that were designed to reduce future debt. In a move that is sure to make future CA residents who are not even born yet pay for the consequences, voters rejected all of the measures. The measures included tax increases and the reallocation of funds.

In rejecting these measures, the state government had to find other ways to close the multi-million dollar budget gap. Schwarzenegger is cutting everything. Funds for HIV/AIDS services will get cut, state beaches will shut down and poor children will be uninsured. I think the NY Times sums it up best:

The cuts Mr. Schwarzenegger has proposed to make up the difference, if enacted by the Legislature, would turn California into a place that in some ways would be unrecognizable in modern America: poor children would have no health insurance, prisoners would be released by the thousands and state parks would be closed.
One of those proposals is to cut all funding for Proposition 36. Prop 36 is (take it away, Wiki) "an initiative statute that permanently changed state law to allow qualifying defendants convicted of non-violent drug possession offenses to receive a probationary sentence in lieu of incarceration. As a condition of probation, defendants are required to participate in and complete a licensed and/or certified community drug treatment program. If the defendant fails to complete this program or violates any other term or condition of their probation, then probation can be revoked and the defendant may be required to serve an additional sentence which may include incarceration."

You're probably wondering why I am against this cut when I'm no longer a California resident (*sniff, sniff*).

Well, when I was in California two months ago, I was there for a training. Prop 36 was an integral part of the training. One of the days of the training, I got to visit and participate in an actual drug court. Instead of going to regular court, defendants with minor drug-related offenses would go to see this one judge who would then refer them to treatment.

The drug court consists of the judge, a public defender, a probation officer, two substance abuse counselors and the director of the substance abuse program that the defendants were referred to. Every week/every two weeks (depending on the severity of the addiction problem and the related crime), the defendants would go back to check in. The drug court judge was the most compassionate person I've ever seen in any legal system. He would publicly acknowledge defendant successes, especially those who completed treatment without relapse. People who had relapsed would receive a father-like lecture from the judge and were then sent to jail for a week to think about what they had done and how they were going to make things right when they are released.

In meetings both before and after the session, the drug court judge expressed empathy when discussing clients, but in court he showed some tough love. He genuinely cared about the defendants and they returned that sentiment. I sat close to the judge during the proceedings and he would often counsel the defendants privately. The defendants trusted him with their stories (which I obviously can't reveal here--let's just say they were depressing), and the judge would advise them appropriately. He was under no obligation to do so, but I think he liked that the defendants trusted him and sought his opinion on personal matters.

With cuts to all Prop 36 funding, drug courts and the treatment programs they refer to will no longer be able to count on this state funding stream. This would be extremely detrimental to the agency who trained me (an agency which counts among its successes its ability to treat meth addicts effectively. In my experience, meth addicts are the hardest to treat). Now, the offenders will probably face short prison sentences (you know, with overcrowding and all), receive absolutely no treatment for their problems, and just go back to committing the same crimes all over again.

There was a time in this country when incarceration was about rehabilitation, not punishment. And the drug courts were a perfect example of this. Without Prop 36, the cycle of recidivism will not stop. It would be a damn shame to end this program and negate all of its success.


media concepts said...

I am one of those California voters, and must disagree with you that the measures "were designed to reduce future debt." I read them as carefully as possible (and I have a law degree), and found them to be mere gimmicks that, at best, would take money away from other important programs, and do zero to solve California's budget crisis.

Most Democratic-leaning groups opposed either all or most of these propositions (other than the one that passed, which prohibits pay raises for state officials when the state runs a deficit) for the same reason. For example, here's what Courage Campaign had to say.

Anonymous said...

I HATE that we throw small-time drug offenders into jail. Makes my blood boil. In fact, the whole War on Drugs makes my blood boil, but that's a whole other story...When will they learn that these people need rehabilitation, a helping hand and not just punishment?

anOCgirl said...

media concepts: well, the NY times article was pretty vague on the details and lumped them into the reducing future debt category. i stand corrected.

in fact, i should know better since i remember reading that the Liberal OC had supported only one of the Props.

schwarzenegger's proposed cuts are RIDICULOUS so i hope they don't get passed.

instatick--ay. i can write a whole other blog post about that topic. i see a lot of addicts/offenders come and go in my program and, no, they don't need punishment. in fact, they've already been punished in their lives by the situations they find themselves in. rehab is necessary. one of the evals on Prop 36 found that the program was saving cali tax payers money for not putting all of these people in jail.