Pubdate: Wed, 25 Oct 2000
Source: Ventura County Star (CA)
Copyright: 2000, Ventura County Star
Contact:  P.O. Box 6711, Ventura CA 93006
Fax: (805) 650-2950
Author: Timm Herdt
Note: Timm Herdt is chief of the Star's state bureau.
Bookmark: For Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act items:


Drug War: A senator and a judge reach opposite conclusions on Proposition

For state Sen. Cathie Wright, a visit two years ago to the Northern
California Women's Facility at Stockton was an experience that has haunted
her since.

In conversation after conversation, she has recounted the sadness of looking
into the eyes of a woman inmate who had lost any vestige of hope -- hope of
ever again seeing her children, hope of a life with meaning, hope for even a
moment of joy.

Like 90 percent of inmates at Stockton, she was there because of drugs,
often because of a relationship with a man who used and sold the poison, and
used the woman as a second-class business partner to deliver drugs.

In response, Wright tried to do a small thing that might give some of these
women at least the chance for hope. She wrote legislation that would have
allowed women convicted of drug felonies to receive CalWorks assistance --
housing vouchers, job training and child care -- upon their release.

To qualify, they would have had to submit to regular drug tests and stay

The bill passed the Legislature, but was vetoed by Gov. Gray Davis, who
declared: "Convicted felons do not deserve the same treatment as law-abiding

Wright knows that the cycle of wasted lives will continue.

The state will spend $20,000 a year to keep mom in prison and up to $100,000
a year to place her children in a group home.

Last week when she filled out her absentee ballot, the conservative
Republican from Simi Valley voted Yes on Proposition 36, the initiative that
would require nonviolent drug offenders to be sentenced to treatment and

She might have voted differently, she said, if the prison system offered
adequate drug treatment to inmates, or if CalWorks provided some level of
assistance to women after they are released from serving time for drug

"We're just destroying more lives in the name of being tough on crime," she

"I'm not soft on crime -- reward and punishment, that's what life is all
about," Wright said. "But for a lot less money we could turn these people
around and make them tax providers instead of tax spenders."

* * * *

Ventura County Superior Court Judge Barry Klopfer has also looked into the
eyes of drug addicts. But he, as judge of the county's Drug Court, has seen
hope and success -- and despair.

He's looked into the bright, proud eyes of drug-court graduates who have
tackled the most difficult challenge of their lives. "I've seen people
who've succeeded against all odds," he says.

Klopfer knows that drug treatment can work -- but only when the client is
truly committed to succeeding.

"I don't think anybody has taken a position that drug treatment is for
everybody," he said. "We are dealing with a population in which change does
not come easy . . . And when you're talking about a change as dramatic and
significant as changing a many-year pattern of illegal drug usage, it's a
hard thing to do."

Klopfer's tough-love conclusion: Some addicts need to spend some hard time
in jail or prison if they are ever to confront their problem.

Not that incarceration alone works wonders, Klopfer added.

"You put a guy in jail -- nine months, 10 months, 12 months, it doesn't
matter -- and the guy gets back out of jail and many times he uses again
before he even gets off the property. Do we have any sense that we're being
successful at the war on drugs in that way? Absolutely not."

Klopfer fears that voters, disillusioned with the failures of the war on
drugs and eager for a simple solution, may well embrace Proposition 36 on
Nov. 7.

The pro-Proposition 36 rhetoric, he said, has an undeniable, knee-jerk

"They talk in terms of drug addiction being a health problem," he said.
"Well, of course it is a health problem. But it's not the kind of health
problem where if we just get enough antibiotics we can cure it."

Treatment is not a magic bullet, Klopfer said. He knows it's not going to
work, for instance, when a defendant comes before him and says she is
willing to accept treatment -- but unwilling to move out of the house she
shares with a drug-dealing boyfriend.

"You wanna know what scares me the most about Proposition 36?" he asks.
"We're setting them up for another failure -- and we're not talking about
people who've experienced a lot of success in their lives."

* * * *

There you have it. Two views of the drug war from those who have seen its

Wright knows that a system based on incarceration callously wastes lives --
not just those of abusers, but of their families.

Klopfer knows that a system that uses treatment can work, but that one that
assumes treatment is a universal cure-all is doomed to failure.

So which is the better choice?

To voters looking for guidance, perhaps it comes down to this: Which is most
likely to be modified by lawmakers seeking a workable middle ground?

Wright tried to change the current system and got nowhere. We know her
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