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Friday, October 17, 2008

What is Prop 5 all about?

With all our focus on the presidential candidates and Proposition 8, some of us might be overlooking a few other important issues that are going to be on the ballot this Novemeber.

One of those important issues is Prop 5. The L.A. Times recently ran an editorial urging California voters to reject Proposition 5, a ballot measure that would severely weaken the state's successful anti-drug diversion programs:

"Under Proposition 5, an addict caught breaking into a home would be exempt from incarceration if his reason was to feed his addiction and if he agreed to treatment. Judges would likewise be unable to jail someone who stole a car, abused a spouse, drove under the influence (and injured someone), possessed an illegal weapon or committed a host of other crimes -- as long as the perpetrator swore that drugs made him do it. Even dealers profiting from others' addictions would be offered diversion. Addicts would get repeated chances at rehab instead of incarceration, no matter how seriously they tried --or didn't -- to kick their habit.

There are two huge problems with that approach. First, it would jeopardize public safety. Second, it doesn't work. Treatment professionals know that addicts need a "moment of clarity" -- a point at which they hit bottom, or close enough to it that they can soberly acknowledge the state they are in and the need for change. Often, that moment comes after the addict skips rehab or fails a drug test and is facing a weekend behind bars.

Not all rehab programs are equal. For hard-core addicts, involuntary programs -- to which they are often sentenced by drug court -- are considerably more effective than voluntary ones.

One of the biggest problems with Proposition 5 is that it would repeatedly cycle addicts through ineffective voluntary programs, which impose few consequences for failure. They're only sent to involuntary treatment (under which they go to jail if they fail a drug test or don't show up) as a last resort, after they've committed a series of crimes. This would cripple the most successful programs in the state.

This isn't the way forward. Voters should reject Proposition 5 and demand that the state's criminal justice system finally get the serious examination it requires -- in Sacramento, where flaws can be worked out, rather than cemented in a well-meaning but ill-considered ballot measure."

-NADCP (NAtional Association of Drug Court Professionals)

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