Pubdate: Sun, 22 Oct 2000
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2000 Los Angeles Times
Contact:  Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053
Fax: (213) 237-7679
Note: Included are two PUB LTE's


Re to the op-ed piece written by my colleague, Judge Ronald P. Kreber 
("Prop. 36 Would Be Death Knell for Drug Courts," Oct. 15):  In the past 10 
years, we have seen a positive revolution in the way the criminal justice 
system treats offenders who take mind-altering drugs. We have instituted 
drug courts, where drug users are treated with caring and compassion as 
human beings with a problem. However, they are also held strictly 
accountable to satisfy the demands of the court's drug treatment program. 
The results in many ways have been gratifying.

Recently numbers of people, including some of my fellow judges, have voiced 
concerns that the passage of Proposition 36 would undercut our drug courts. 
However, based upon my experience as the one who in effect began the first 
"drug court" in the country back in 1984, this simply is not the case.

Proposition 36 is not perfect. For example, it should not leave the funding 
of drug testing to chance. But it should be supported because it would 
provide an option to remove from the criminal justice system those people 
who are not problem users, leaving their use habits to be addressed by 
health-care professionals. This would leave drug courts, with their scarce 
resources, available to confront the problem drug users--and there 
certainly are enough of those to go around.

We did this in 1984 with problem alcohol users, and our program was also 
gratifyingly successful. Even though it is not illegal for adults to buy, 
possess or use alcohol, we were able to use the sanctions of the criminal 
justice system to hold problem users accountable for the crimes they 
committed, such as driving under the influence, assaults, spousal abuse, 
failure to make child-support payments, etc., and at the same time get them 
off alcohol. Thus, for example, we replaced a drinking driver with a sober 
one. Under Proposition 36, the same would be true for problem users who 
commit crimes under the influence of these other mind-altering substances.

However, if we do not support Proposition 36, we will allow the drug courts 
to perpetuate the failed "war on drugs," with all of its needless and 
expensive prosecution and incarceration of non-problem drug users--at 
$21,243 per year. But voting for Proposition 36 gives us all a chance to 
move the policy of our country into a much more positive direction, while 
at the same time using the sanctions of the courts to address the criminal 
actions of people who use drugs.

Orange County Superior Court
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Kreber sings the drug courts' praises and condemns Proposition 36, as if 
the choice we face is between the two. That is false.  He can point only to 
275 graduates of the drug court system in Orange County over the last five 
years; that is because the vast majority of nonviolent drug offenders here 
and elsewhere receive only fines and prison sentences. The majority of them 
commit more crimes after doing their time.

That is the true status quo in California, and a better picture of the 
choice we face: continue paying many thousands per drug offender per year 
in jail again and again, or try paying a small fraction of that for 
treatment that is demonstrated to be more effective than prison at 
preventing repeat offenses.  A nice side benefit is that we could use the 
prison space freed up by Proposition 36 to hold people who commit serious 
crimes, like burglary and assault, instead of having to either let them go 
prematurely because of prison overcrowding or spend megabucks on new 
prisons. Who outside the prison industry has a problem with that?

Costa Mesa
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart