Pubdate: Wed, 29 Oct 2008
Source: Chico Enterprise-Record (CA)
Copyright: 2008 Chico Enterprise-Record
Note: Letters from newspaper's circulation area receive publishing priority
Author: Terry Vau Dell, Staff Writer
Cited: Proposition 5
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


There are strong opinions on both sides for and against Proposition 
5, the prison reform and drug treatment initiative on Tuesday's ballot.

Supporters say the Nonviolent Offenders Rehabilitation Act will 
reduce current prison overcrowding by removing thousands of drug 
users from the penal system, cutting parole for those who seek 
treatment from three years to as little as six months, while 
conversely increasing parole time for people convicted of violent or 
sex crimes.

Proposition 5 would provide about $460 million a year -- nearly 
triple the current amount -- to divert a wider variety of 
drug-related offenders into treatment, getting to the root of their 
addiction instead of incarcerating them, say advocates.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimates the measure 
could wind up costing taxpayers $1 billion a year, but potentially 
save another $2.5 billion in related prison construction costs by 
removing up to 18,000 inmates from the state's penitentiaries.

Opponents contend Proposition 5 is a deceptive and costly "social 
experiment," which is not aimed only at nonviolent drug users.

They assert the measure will allow defendants charged with a wide 
range of crimes including arson, identity theft, drunken driving, 
commercial burglary and child abuse to escape punishment by claiming 
their drug addiction caused them to commit crime.

They also argue the "one-size fits all" regimen envisioned under 
Proposition 5 lacks the flexibility and accountability of the present 
drug court treatment programs it would replace.

In Butte County, three past, current and future drug treatment court 
judges oppose Proposition 5, as does Chico Police Chief Bruce Hagerty 
and Sheriff Perry Reniff.

Attorney General Jerry Brown, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and the 
California Department of Public Health have also publicly opposed the measure.

Last week the Butte County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution 
opposing Proposition 5, following an address by District Attorney 
Mike Ramsey, who has historically been a strong advocate of drug 
treatment courts.

Among others, Proposition 5 is endorsed by the League of Women 
Voters, the California Federation of Teachers, a state nursing 
organization and drug rehabilitation centers.

Among its advocates locally is Tommy Higgins, a recovered drug addict 
and ex-con, who founded Skyway House, Butte County's first and 
largest nonprofit rehab clinics for substance abusers.

While agreeing Proposition 5 is "imperfect," Higgins and attorney 
Steven Trenholme, who represents indigent criminal suspects in Butte 
County's drug treatment courts, say it would provide a much-needed 
steady source of revenue to combat long-standing addictions that are 
destroying families and driving up crime.

The complex initiative was drafted by the Drug Policy Alliance, the 
same group that wrote Proposition 36, the 2000 voter-approved 
initiative that provided treatment3 instead of incarceration for 
non-violent drug offenders.

Proposition 5 would replace Proposition 36 and the companion Drug 
Court with a three-tiered "track" system of treatment for a much 
larger number of drug-related offenders.

It would also make possession of less than 28.5 grams of marijuana an 
infraction, much like a parking ticket. Small amounts of pot now is a 
misdemeanor that carries as much as $380 in fines and related fees 
and jail terms for repeat offenses.

If passed by the voters, Proposition 5 would mandate drug rehab 
programs in prison, except for those serving life terms, and reduce 
sentences for inmates convicted of drug-related or property crimes 
who show progress or complete such programs.

Parole for the same types of offenses would be cut from three years 
to six months and in most cases the individual couldn't be returned 
to prison for minor or technical violations of parole under Proposition 5

Helen Harberts, the local drug treatment court prosecutor, contends 
that Proposition 5 is the latest effort by "three out-of-state 
millionaires" whose stated goal is to "medicalize" all drug crimes in the U.S.

Rather than treating drug addiction, Proposition 5 could actually 
perpetuate it by allowing some offenders not only to continue abusing 
drugs with impunity while going through court-ordered treatment, but 
selling it to the very people the measure is intended to help, argues Ramsey.

The initiative has been derisively called by some critics "the drug 
dealer's bill of rights."

Higgins points out Proposition 36 was also condemned initially, but 
that "we made it work in Butte County."

While Proposition 36 statewide has experienced a 77 percent failure 
rate, more than half of those who go through the program in Butte 
County graduate.

Harberts says that is because Butte's Proposition 36 court operates 
on the drug-court model, requiring "voluntary" jail terms for non-compliance.

By contrast, Harberts points out Proposition 5 would mandate judges 
to accept into treatment anyone with up to five criminal arrests in 
the past 30 months, while permitting repeated drug relapses or other 
violations of court orders before any jail sanctions could be imposed.

Judge Stephen Benson, who currently presides of the Butte County Drug 
and Proposition 36 courts, agrees Proposition 5 would "take away a 
lot of the tools we now use in recovery," and remove judge's 
discretion as to whom to exclude from treatment. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake