Alternatives to Incarceration

RSS Feed for this category

Neither Treatment Nor Jail for California Drug Offenders [FEATURE]

California voters opted for treatment over prison for drug possession offenders when they passed Proposition 36 with 61% of the vote in 2000. But now, five years after voter-mandated funding for treatment expired, the deficit-wracked state government is refusing to ante up, equally cash-starved counties are refusing to fund treatment locally, and drug offenders are ending up with neither treatment nor jail.

California State Capitol, Sacramento
When Prop 36 was fully funded by voter mandate, people who were convicted of first- or second-time drug possession offenses and decided to opt in were placed on probation with the requirement that they enter treatment. Treatment was funded by the state. But after that initial five-year mandate, and as California's budget crisis worsened, state funding has shrunk each year, and waiting lists for treatment for Prop 36 offenders began to grow.

That's even as the program has proven a success. According to research conducted by UCLA, Prop 36 has reduced the number of people imprisoned for drug possession by 40%, or 8,000 people, saving taxpayers $400 million in corrections costs this year alone. Overall, Prop 36 has saved the state more than $2 billion in corrections costs.

Perversely, Prop 36 treatment didn't get a penny of it. Once the mandated funding of around $120 million a year expired, treatment funding fell from a high of $145 million in 2007-2008 to $118 million in 2008-2009, $18 million in 2009-2010, and zero last year. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has proposed zero funding for Prop 36 treatment again this year.

"Prop 36 has helped reduce the number of people incarcerated for drug possession by nearly half, but there are still 9,000 of them in prison," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director for Southern California for the Drug Policy Alliance, the group that sponsored Prop 36. "Most were never convicted of any serious or violent offense, but are there because they have a drug problem and multiple offenses. This is the same population that we've successfully been diverting from prison in huge numbers with no negative impact on public safety or on the taxpayers."

Prop 36's mandates are still in effect even if no one is allocating money to fund them. The court must still offer probation with the requirement that the offender goes to treatment, but now, instead of going to treatment, offenders go on a waiting list, which has grown weeks- and months-long as funding shrank, and which now may become endless.

"If you don't really need drug treatment, that's not a problem," said Dooley-Sammuli, "but if you have a drug problem, you are being put at a serious disadvantage. You're not getting the treatment you're entitled to under Prop 36 and you're at greater risk of being found in violation of probation and incarcerated."

With the prospect of help from the state legislature grim, counties are scrambling to figure out what to do. None of the options look very good.

"Long before we had financial support, long before there were funds to subsidize persons involved in the criminal justice system in our treatment services, we were seeing people ordered into treatment by the courts. We have just reverted back to those days," Haven Fearn, director of the Contra Costa County Health Services Department's Alcohol and Other Drug Services Division, told the Oakland Tribune. "We still offer treatment services to those individuals, but if the treatment slots are unavailable at the time the court orders it, many of them will have to go onto a waiting list."

Santa Cruz County announced that will "phase out" Prop 36 by no longer monitoring its participants, and other counties have suggested they will send offenders to Narcotics Anonymous. But counties that do not provide Prop 36 treatment could face lawsuits from Prop 36 offenders facing incarceration after failing three drug tests, if those those counties did not provide the treatment required by Prop 36.

"The counties can't opt out," said Dooley-Sammuli. "This is a sentencing statute. No county can end Prop 36. What they are choosing to end is the providing of treatment."

If legislators were smart, they would pay for treatment, said Dooley-Sammuli. "We hope they will realize that the state is crazy to not provide counties the resources to deal more effectively and more cost-effectively with people convicted of drug possession. Probation and treatment are both cheaper than jail. Not only should treatment be funded," she said, "but we know where to find it: In the $450 million currently locked up in the prison budget to incarcerate drug possessors."

Dooley-Sammuli also suggested California make possession a misdemeanor, not a felony. "The legislature recognizes that drug possession isn’t an offense that warrants incarceration in state prison, and we're asking that they follow through with what that really means," she said.

"Not only do we save money by making that a misdemeanor, we're also talking about making an important difference in the lives of people convicted of drug possession," she continued. "Having a felony on your record makes a huge difference in employment opportunities, lifetime earnings, being able to vote or adopt children, having custody of your own children, and other damaging collateral consequences."

If California isn't going to imprison drug possessors and it isn't going to provide them treatment, then perhaps it should just go ahead and decriminalize drug possession. Until it does, though, drug possession remains a felony in the Golden State. It's just that the state by law can't send offenders to prison and by choice won't pay to send them to treatment.

CA
United States

Money Is Gone, but Proposition 36's Drug Treatment Mandate Remains

Location: 
CA
United States
Enacted by 61 percent of voters in November 2000 as Proposition 36, the law says first- and second-time nonviolent, simple drug possession offenders must be given the opportunity to receive substance abuse treatment instead of jail time. That "must" isn't a suggestion; it would take another voter-approved ballot measure to undo it. County officials who administer the state's treatment-not-jail program for certain drug offenders are struggling with a lack of funding that's not likely to improve, but advocates say ignoring the mandate simply isn't an option.
Publication/Source: 
Contra Costa Times (CA)
URL: 
http://www.contracostatimes.com/bay-area-news/ci_17438274?nclick_check=1

Florida's New Corrections Head Pushing for Drug Rehab, Flexibility in Sentencing

Location: 
FL
United States
More drug treatment, juvenile intervention and giving judges more flexibility in sentencing are the ways to improve Florida's correctional system, the state's newest prisons chief said.
Publication/Source: 
The Florida Courier (FL)
URL: 
http://www.flcourier.com/flflorida/4459-floridas-new-corrections-head-pushing-for-drug-rehab-job-training

Big Changes to Kentucky Drug Laws Advance in Legislature

Location: 
KY
United States
Kentucky's House Judiciary Committee approved the most sweeping changes to the state's penal code in a generation in an effort to reduce prison and jail crowding. The committee voted unanimously to send House Bill 463 to the full House, where a floor vote is expected tomorrow. The result of much negotiation and compromise, the bill would steer many drug addicts into treatment and community supervision rather than prison. It drew praise from prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges and local leaders. The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce endorsed it, warning that the state's incarceration costs are draining resources that could better be spent on education.
Publication/Source: 
Lexington Herald-Leader (KY)
URL: 
http://www.kentucky.com/2011/02/16/1636753/kentucky-house-committee-approves.html

Hearing on Indiana Marijuana Study Bill Today (Press Release)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE            February 15, 2011

Hearing on Indiana Marijuana Study Bill Today

CONTACT: Morgan Fox, communications manager………………………(202) 905-2031 or mfox@mpp.org

INDIANAPOLIS — The first hearing on S.B. 192 took place today to discuss the need to study the marijuana laws in Indiana and find alternatives to arrest and incarceration. S.B. 192 would create a mandate requiring lawmakers to investigate other options to the marijuana laws that put non-violent Hoosiers behind bars and tie up scarce resources that the public would rather see spent on infrastructure. The bill is sponsored by Sen. Karen Tallian (D-Dist. 4).

            “It has become painfully obvious that our current marijuana laws are not effective,” Sen. Tallian said. “We spend a sizable amount of money every year going after marijuana users and locking them up for a non-violent crime, while more important programs that desperately need funds go wanting. I think we need to take a very close look at the laws we have, determine what is working and what isn’t, and explore every possible alternative. This bill will make sure that we, as lawmakers, commit to this course.”

            Over a dozen people testified at the hearings, including policy experts, former law enforcement officers, and medical marijuana patients that suffer from the threat of arrest under the present system. One speaker, C.J. Parker, said, “I am a Gulf War Era Veteran and former police officer who suffers from over 20 diagnosed illnesses, including PTSD, and have been 100% unemployable since 2004 due to the combined effects of my illnesses. I have had no success with the over 30 pharmaceutical medications that have been prescribed to me over the last 9 years, but have found great relief from treating my illnesses with marijuana. It is time my elected leaders take a look at how to allow people like me to live without the fear of arrest.”

            A local leader in the marijuana reform community, Joh Padgett, said, “I have been a cannabis [marijuana] therapy patient for many years treating diabetic neuropathy, and pain associated with chronic venous stasis, edema, and a blood clotting disorder that has reduced circulation in my legs by 80%. I co-founded ReLegalize Indiana with our Chairman, Bill Levin, in January 2010 to give a voice to patients in Indiana like me who can benefit greatly from medical cannabis. Proper medical research is something we do well in Indiana and it is time we allowed our world-class researchers and our most vulnerable citizens to study and access a therapy allowed in 15 states and the District of Columbia.”           

            With more than 124,000 members and supporters nationwide, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States. For more information, please visit www.mpp.org.

####

Location: 
IN
United States

Bills Aim to Improve Drug Treatment, Cut Prison Costs Through Alternatives to Incarceration

Location: 
KY
United States
After months of study, Kentucky's General Assembly will begin considering proposals next week aimed at reducing the state's soaring prison population and thereby curbing costs through such things as better drug treatment and alternatives to incarceration. Two identical 135-page bills were filed in the Senate and House, the work product of a task force that examined a wide range of corrections issues.
Publication/Source: 
The Courier-Journal (KY)
URL: 
http://www.courier-journal.com/article/20110211/NEWS01/302110086/1037/SPORTS08/Bills-aim-cut-prison-costs-improve-drug-treatment?odyssey=nav|head

Conservatives Board Sentencing Reform Bandwagon [FEATURE]

Struggling with chronic budget crises, lawmakers in more and more states are embracing sentencing and other reforms in a bid to hold down corrections costs. But while sentencing reform has long been the domain of "bleeding heart" liberals, now conservatives are driving those efforts in some states.

Indiana's Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels wants sentencing reforms...(Image via Wikipedia)
It's not just about dollars. Although fiscal concerns are a driving force among conservatives, there are also signs they are recognizing and confronting the failures of our drug and criminal justice policies. In a recent Washington Post op-ed, none other than former House Speaker Newt Gingrich wrote of "more humane, effective alternatives" to the national imprisonment binge.

Still, as their states bleed red ink, some of them are shifting from "tough on crime" to "smart on crime." Leading the charge is a newly formed advocacy group, Right On Crime, endorsed by big conservative names including Gingrich, taxpayer advocate Grover Norquist, and former drug czar William Bennett.

Based in Texas, Right On Crime is touting the success the Lone Star State has had with sentencing reform to make such reforms more palatable to conservatives. In 2003, the state passed legislation ordering that small-time drug offenders be given probation instead of prison time, and in 2007, the state rejected prison-building in favor of spending $241 million on treatment programs for offenders.

Crime rates declined at the same time the incarceration rate did. And the state has saved about $2 billion by not building an additional 17,000 prison beds it once thought it needed.

Now, conservatives in other states are pushing similar reforms -- Right on Crime identifies 21 states it says are engaged in "conservative" sentencing and corrections reforms.

"The fiscal argument is resonating with conservatives and liberals alike these days," said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project. "Prison and corrections spending is the big elephant in the room right now; it is ripe for cuts."

But it's not just the fiscal argument, said Mauer. "Some of this is in keeping with conservative philosophy, and much of their concern about incarceration has focused on drug policy. The drug war encompasses the whole country, but the federal system is an enormous part of it. Conservatives view it as taking over areas of policy that should best be left to the states," he said. "And then there are sort of libertarian conservatives who don't think the government should be telling us what is appropriate behavior."

It is also the result of years of effort by key advocates, said Mauer. "People like Pat Nolan at the Justice Fellowship have been working with that community for over a decade now about why this should be a conservative issue also," he pointed out.

Mauer welcomed the emergence of conservatives interested in sentencing reform. "We need to broaden the range of voices that are being heard on these issues," he said. "They can be helpful in a couple of ways, most importantly in communicating that these are not necessarily liberal or conservative issues, but good public policy perspectives. It's kind of ironic that the one area where there seems to be real bipartisan cooperation happening is in criminal justice policy."

"I think it's a good thing," said Traci Velasquez, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute (JPI). "The work that JPI and a lot of others have done over the years points out financial and social reasons why existing drug and other criminal justice policies have been ineffective, and some of those reasons are conservative: It doesn't work and it costs too much. I'm glad to see voices across the political spectrum are speaking out on this."

The years of laying the groundwork are starting to pay off now, said Velasquez, who also pointed to the efforts of the Justice Fellowship. "There has been a lot of receptivity this year," she said. "When governors gave their inaugural speeches this year, I think there were ten of them that included things about criminal justice reform, locking up fewer people, and helping ex-prisoners be more successful in the community."

Sentencing and other criminal justice reforms are also benefiting from a sort of benign neglect, Velasquez said. "Because the media is focused on a lot of other issues, there is a little more space to talk about these issues," she said. "Between the Middle East, the overall economic crisis, and two wars, the media doesn't have a lot of time to push a hysterical criminal justice narrative as it did in the past. Now, policymakers can worry less about commentators ripping them apart as soft on crime."

Whether or not conservatives actually accomplish sentencing reform, the fact that they are now addressing it is a positive step, said Mauer. "If nothing else, just the symbolism of these leading conservatives coming out helps shift the political climate under which these issues are being addressed," he said. "It makes it a little more comfortable to talk about it."

The fact that the states are now collectively spending $50 billion a year on corrections, making it their second-fastest growing spending category behind Medicaid, according to the Pew Center on the States, is impelling efforts at change in places not previously known as bastions of reform:

In Indiana, Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels has made a massive criminal justice system overhaul one of his top legislative priorities this year. Based on a report from the bipartisan Indiana Criminal Code Evaluation Commission, the package includes recommendations to cut sentences for possession and sale of cocaine and methamphetamine.

In the past decade, even though crime rates fell in Indiana, the prison population increased by 40%. Corrections spending also increased, although not as much, and now swallows up $616 million a year. More than half of Indiana prisoners are drug or property offenders. If current trends continue unabated, the report found, the prison population will increase by another 21% by 2017, and the state will have to spend an additional $1.2 billion on top of current corrections spending just to make room to house them.

While the reforms have broad support, not everybody is on board. The Association of Indiana Prosecuting Attorney has voted to oppose the recommendation to cut drug sentences.

"There are all kinds of proposals on the table that reduce and reassign sentencing levels," the group's 2010 president, Shelby County Prosecutor Kent Apsley told the Indianapolis Star last month. "Some of them in my view are pretty extreme changes in the law and probably go too far. The question is: Where is the breaking point where you're saving money to the point that it may seriously impact public safety?"
 

In Pennsylvania, Democratic state Auditor General Jack Wagner last week endorsed Republican Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Stewart Greenleaf's SB 100, the Criminal Justice Reform Act, which seeks to reduce corrections costs by allowing the state to more quickly transfer nonviolent offenders to community corrections centers and allowing more nonviolent offenders to be eligible for the community centers.

"With Pennsylvania facing its greatest budget crisis since the Great Depression, we must look for sustainable savings in every nook and cranny of state government, and that includes the criminal justice system, which is one of the three biggest drivers of increased spending over the past decade," Wagner said.

Pennsylvania's prison population has increased five-fold since 1980, to more than 51,000 last year, and was the fastest growing in the country last year. According to Wagner, that increase is "due in part to tougher sentencing guidelines, particularly with drug-related offenses."

The alternative sentencing proposals in SB 100 could save the state $50 million in the coming fiscal year and $350 million over the next four years, Wagner said in a statement as he released a report on corrections spending whose recommendations largely dove-tailed with the bill. But the title of the statement, Auditor General Jack Wagner Says PA Needs Sentencing Reform, Construction Freeze to Shrink Corrections Cost, pretty well summed it up.

The state is already committed to spending $860 million to build four new prisons and four new housing units to hold another 9,000 inmates, but those will be full as soon as they are built. Wagner is saying no more prison-building.

"While most economic sectors in the commonwealth remain mired in recession, prisons remain Pennsylvania's largest growth industry," he said.

Serious conservative reform efforts are also underway in Kentucky and Louisiana, among others, but while conservative support for sentencing reforms is making waves, liberals are not shirking, either. Reform measures are afoot in a number of states. Here are two examples:

...and so does California's Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown (Image via Wikipedia)
In California, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) last month outlined plans to save half a billion dollars  a year by keeping "nonviolent, non-serious, non-sex offense" first-time offenders out of state prison. Those convicts would instead be housed in county jails. It is not sentencing reform, but it will take some of the pressure off the state prison system.

Drug offenders are among those who could be affected. Currently, there are some 10,000 people serving time in California for drug possession, as well as several thousand serving time for marijuana manufacture or distribution offenses.

The measure has the support of the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which also called for a greater investment in drug treatment. "Governor Brown set an important tone and made it clear that our expensive state prisons should be reserved for people convicted of serious offenses, not for everyone who's ever made a mistake," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, DPA deputy state director for Southern California.  "California is expected to save $500 million a year by handling more petty offenses, including low-level drug possession, at the county level. We think the savings would be even greater if drug treatment were made more available in the community. Under the plan, counties would have that option."

In Massachusetts, Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick is calling for the repeal of many of the state's mandatory minimum sentences for drug offenses as part of a criminal justice reform package he unveiled last month. Patrick's proposal would also allow nonviolent drug offenders to become eligible for parole, work release, and earned "good time" credits, and it would reduce the size of school "drug-free" zones from 1,000 feet to 100 feet.

The governor's proposal was "a bold move," but also "just basic common sense," said Barbara Dougan of Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM). "The governor’s bill would simply realign our current drug sentencing policies so that they are in sync with what we know about who is being sentenced to mandatory prison terms and what those people need to stay out of trouble when they leave prison," she continued. "Nearly two-thirds of those sentenced to mandatory prison terms fall into the two lowest level 'criminal history' groups -- no prior record or few lower level offenses. Yet too often they serve disproportionately harsh sentences, sometimes longer than those who commit violent crimes. As a result, the public pays for lengthier sentences than are warranted."

But, as in Indiana, prosecutors and law enforcement officials are coming out in opposition to at least part of the proposal. According to the Boston Globe, they are objecting to shrinking the school "drug-free" zone because doing so "would allow dealers to sell drugs very close to schools and would weaken strong drug laws passed during the 1980s crack cocaine scourge."

Conservatives are now joining liberals in trying to bring some common sense and fiscal sanity to the nation's drug and sentencing policies. But as police and prosecutor organizations have shown, reform threatens some powerful groups' turfs -- one man's cost is another's benefit. The sentencing reform battle is far from won, but the battle is joined, and we have reinforcements.

Columbian Marching Powder: How Reforms to the Rockefeller Drug Laws Could Help the Alleged Ivy League Drug Dealers

Location: 
NY
United States
In 2009, after years of debate and political wrangling, the New York state legislature finally passed a bill revising the state's notorious Rockefeller drug laws. Now it turns out that the first high-profile beneficiaries of the reforms could be a bunch of kids from Columbia University. The arrest of five students on Dec. 7 — they allegedly sold $11,000 worth of marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy, Adderall, and LSD — may be a "test case" for the new reforms.
Publication/Source: 
Slate (NY)
URL: 
http://www.slate.com/id/2283406/

Georgia Governor Pushing More Alternative Programs for Non-Violent Drug Offenders

Location: 
GA
United States
Gov. Nathan Deal says he's moving ahead to reduce Georgia's prison population by diverting non-violent drug offenders to other programs. A 2009 national report said drug prohibition related crimes were listed as the primary offense for about 17 percent of Georgia's prisoners. Deal has made it clear he's not interested in springing repeat or violent offenders. But locking up non-violent offenders wastes their lives, strains the state's budget and depletes its work force, he said.
Publication/Source: 
Savannah Morning News (GA)
URL: 
http://savannahnow.com/news/2011-02-01/gov-deal-working-divert-non-violent-drug-offenders-programs-outside-prison

Republican Lawmakers Shifting Tough-On-Crime Stance As State Budget Problems Multiply

In no state is the philosophical U-turn more abrupt than in Oklahoma, where last year the Legislature was barreling in the opposite direction. New Republican Speaker of the House Kris Steele is expected to unveil a package of proposals that would divert thousands of nonviolent lawbreakers from the prison system and ramp up paroles. Similar crash prison reductions are going on from coast to coast. Michigan has shuttered 20 correctional facilities and slashed spending by nearly 7 percent. South Carolina expects to reduce its inmate numbers by 8 percent by putting drug dealers, burglars and hot check writers into community programs instead of behind bars.
Publication/Source: 
Los Angeles Times (CA)
URL: 
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/wire/sns-ap-us-broken-budgets-prison-problems,0,2779184.story

Drug War Issues

Criminal JusticeAsset Forfeiture, Collateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Court Rulings, Drug Courts, Due Process, Felony Disenfranchisement, Incarceration, Policing (2011 Drug War Killings, 2012 Drug War Killings, 2013 Drug War Killings, 2014 Drug War Killings, Arrests, Eradication, Informants, Interdiction, Lowest Priority Policies, Police Corruption, Police Raids, Profiling, Search and Seizure, SWAT/Paramilitarization, Task Forces, Undercover Work), Probation or Parole, Prosecution, Reentry/Rehabilitation, Sentencing (Alternatives to Incarceration, Clemency and Pardon, Crack/Powder Cocaine Disparity, Death Penalty, Decriminalization, Defelonization, Drug Free Zones, Mandatory Minimums, Rockefeller Drug Laws, Sentencing Guidelines)CultureArt, Celebrities, Counter-Culture, Music, Poetry/Literature, Television, TheaterDrug UseParaphernalia, ViolenceIntersecting IssuesCollateral Sanctions (College Aid, Drug Taxes, Housing, Welfare), Violence, Border, Budgets/Taxes/Economics, Business, Civil Rights, Driving, Economics, Education (College Aid), Employment, Environment, Families, Free Speech, Gun Policy, Human Rights, Immigration, Militarization, Money Laundering, Pregnancy, Privacy (Search and Seizure, Drug Testing), Race, Religion, Science, Sports, Women's IssuesMarijuana PolicyGateway Theory, Hemp, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Marijuana Industry, Medical MarijuanaMedicineMedical Marijuana, Science of Drugs, Under-treatment of PainPublic HealthAddiction, Addiction Treatment (Science of Drugs), Drug Education, Drug Prevention, Drug-Related AIDS/HIV or Hepatitis C, Harm Reduction (Methadone & Other Opiate Maintenance, Needle Exchange, Overdose Prevention, Safe Injection Sites)Source and Transit CountriesAndean Drug War, Coca, Hashish, Mexican Drug War, Opium ProductionSpecific DrugsAlcohol, Ayahuasca, Cocaine (Crack Cocaine), Ecstasy, Heroin, Ibogaine, ketamine, Khat, Marijuana (Gateway Theory, Marijuana -- Personal Use, Medical Marijuana, Hashish), Methamphetamine, New Synthetic Drugs (Synthetic Cannabinoids, Synthetic Stimulants), Nicotine, Prescription Opiates (Fentanyl, Oxycontin), Psychedelics (LSD, Mescaline, Peyote, Salvia Divinorum)YouthGrade School, Post-Secondary School, Raves, Secondary School

StopTheDrugWar Video Archive