The L.A. Times reports:
The most comprehensive assessment of California’s landmark effort to treat drug users rather than jail them has found that nearly half of offenders sentenced under the program fail to complete rehab and more than a quarter never show up for treatment.
The high failure rates have prompted a growing number of critics to call for jail sanctions for defendants they say take advantage of the program’s lack of penalties.
Maybe it comes as a surprise to the editors of the L.A. Times that you can’t force drug offenders to complete drug programs without a credible threat of incarceration. But it doesn’t surprise me. That’s the reason I voted against Proposition 36 in 2000.
The idea behind Proposition 36 is that you get three chances to mess up before you can be sent to jail for even one day. Like many Deputy District Attorneys in busy courthouses, I have filled in temporarily in Proposition 36 courts from time to time, and I see how this theory works in practice. The judge takes a plea from a defendant on a felony drug possession case, and tells him that he will have three chances to violate his Proposition 36 probation before he can be incarcerated. Watching judges take pleas like this is very much like being a bystander watching a parent lecture his child in the following manner:
I saw you hit Johnny. You had better not do that again! If you do . . . well, I won’t do anything the first time. If you do it a second time . . . well, I still won’t do anything. But if you do it a third time, then mister, you will be in trouble!
Picture a child receiving such a lecture, and you can easily visualize the results of implementing such a program in the criminal justice system:
High failure rates are typical among drug treatment programs, but many judges and law enforcement officials say too few defendants appear to take Proposition 36 seriously.
Indeed, some offenders admit they view the program as a “free pass.”
“Every time I’d get arrested … [I knew] I’ve got three more chances coming to jail,” Alexander Santillan said in a November interview inside Los Angeles County Jail.
. . . .
Courts have little choice but to release them unless they have exhausted their three chances. A Times analysis of Los Angeles County jail data found that drug possession bookings soared 150% between 2000, the year before Proposition 36 began, and 2005.
What a surprise!
Of course, I realize that the libertarians in the crowd think that everything would be hunky-dory if we just decriminalized drug possession. Tell that to The Independent, a liberal British newspaper that recently reversed its stance in favor of drug legalization, saying:
Record numbers of teenagers are requiring drug treatment as a result of smoking skunk, the highly potent cannabis strain that is 25 times stronger than resin sold a decade ago.
More than 22,000 people were treated last year for cannabis addiction – and almost half of those affected were under 18. With doctors and drugs experts warning that skunk can be as damaging as cocaine and heroin, leading to mental health problems and psychosis for thousands of teenagers, The Independent on Sunday has today reversed its landmark campaign for cannabis use to be decriminalised.
A decade after this newspaper’s stance culminated in a 16,000-strong pro-cannabis march to London’s Hyde Park – and was credited with forcing the Government to downgrade the legal status of cannabis to class C – an IoS editorial states that there is growing proof that skunk causes mental illness and psychosis.
The decision comes as statistics from the NHS National Treatment Agency show that the number of young people in treatment almost doubled from about 5,000 in 2005 to 9,600 in 2006, and that 13,000 adults also needed treatment.
(Via See Dubya.)
There is much room for debate regarding issues such as drug legalization, or substituting treatment for incarceration. Reasonable people on both sides of the issue make good arguments. What annoys me is the smug attitude of some people who claim that it’s not even a close question. The two articles linked above ought to wipe the self-satisfied look off of your faces.
P.S. I said ought to. I harbor no illusions that it actually will.
Let the nasty attacks on the prosecutor begin!