Saturday, April 25, 2009

Proposition 36, Drug Court, Drug Diversion & Incarceration

The Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, also known as Proposition 36, was passed by 61% of California voters on November 7, 2000.

This vote permanently changed state law to allow first- and second-time nonviolent, simple drug possession offenders the opportunity to receive substance abuse treatment instead of incarceration.

Proposition 36 went into effect on July 1, 2001, with $120 million for treatment services allocated annually for five years.

Proposition 36 allows for an alternative to incarceration by allowing a convicted drug offender to participate in rehabilitation program(s).

I believe that the offender is more challenged to provide themselves with their drug of self-perceived necessity than they would be if they were incarcerated due to the intense availability of drugs in our jails and prisons.

However, what warrants investigation into this hypothesis, is it’s actualized seriousness and cause for alarm, that our incarceration system is as crude as the cave man days for certain demographics of the incarcerated general population.

A spot light on this issue has a high probability of affecting positive change within Stanislaus County’s drug problem.

Right from the outset, this positive change would promote dialogue and spark many in the communities to contemplate our drug problem and it’s possible solutions. The collective consciousness of our communities would take the path of least resistance and naturally move closer to positive solutions which it would otherwise not have.

Certainly Proposition 36 is extremely effective for the drug addicted population that has been granted the opportunity of it’s services by the courts.

Good idea. NOT!! Because, you see, rather than calling it accountability - let’s call it accountabilities.

Let’s not count it as one accountability as most opponents of Proposition 36 would prefer you to believe, but rather several accountabilities.

1. The accountability of the offender.

2. The accountability of the treatment program(s).

3. The accountability of the courts.

4. The accountability of friends and family.

5. The accountability of the community.

Am I boring you? Are you tiring of this litany?

No? Maybe it’s starting to impact you that like a thief in the night, there is a part of the Proposition 36 cyclic process now, within our localized society that is missing an important step rendering the process incomplete. Always started, yet seldom finished, making for a low success rate, leaving drug addicts for the most part, on their own to re-offend for multiple, yet accountable reasons.

Thereby going through the process multiple times without recovery.

If applied with more discretion, the Proposition 36 cycle would have a better chance of completing itself with a desirable result – a recovered drug addict.

With the five things that I mentioned above onus is taken by a small percentage of anyone in the community. Kind of like the life boats vs. passenger “classes” of the Titanic tragedy, the largest percentage will be left to fall through the gaping hole of the most necessary piece of the entire cycle. That is accountability. Particularly when only one of the several things I mentioned are considered necessary to be accountable by the very process and attitude of the surrounding community – the drug offender him or herself. Just one of the five. Even that would be ineffective and in my opinion, as I see this cycle start only to continually start and re-start again with most of those that I am in constant contact with. For them, Proposition 36 is nothing more than a treadmill of limbo for the greater part of our drug addicted population.

One life event at a time. One process at a time. For Proposition 36 offenders this one process is all they are exposed to perpetually. Because of its public perception of effectiveness and accountability to the courts, there is no need to try anything further to assist in the individuals recovery from drug addiction. No accountability, no follow up. Limited if any outreach is the reality of this “good idea”.

Another similar program, not as extensively used since the advent of Proposition 36 is the California Drug Diversion program.

This program was sponsored by, among others, then-State Senator George Deukmejian, in order to provide a mechanism for diverting first-offenders from the criminal justice system.

Under P.C. 1000, individuals charged with various drug possession offenses could have all criminal charges against them dismissed, provided they agreed to participate in a drug education and/or treatment program.

Supported by liberals and conservatives alike, the drug diversion bill was signed into law by Governor Ronald Reagan in 1972.

Decades ago, I myself was blessed with this program as an alternative to incarceration. It worked for me, though I was one of three of a larger group of thirty individuals that even graduated under the threat of long – term incarceration.

I was the only one that got a gold star on my certificate of completion because I attended each and every one of the meetings.

I loved it. Over the six meetings, of which one only needed to attend four for qualification of the program’s fulfillment, all that was required was that each attendant listened to a lecture about a different classification of drugs each time.

I was absolutely thrilled to death to actually be asked by the program’s instructor to orate the final sixth lecture on the drug classification of hallucinogenic (marijuana, peyote, LSD and a host of other compounds that I added to the syllabus for the lecture on my own accord.)

In addition to the gold star on my certificate, all charges against me were dropped and the record of the arrest was sealed. I don’t ever have to inform anyone of the arrest or anything. It is just like it never happened. Well, until now.

All those that did not graduate were incarcerated, most for several years.

There was no drug testing involved throughout the entire process.

One guy was facing 30 years for possession of heroin for sale. Which could have meant that he just happened to have a very large quantity at the time for personal use.

He was so addicted and wrapped up in that addiction that he couldn’t even attend four out of the six lectures which were necessary to graduate the Drug Diversion program. He couldn’t save himself from spending the rest of his life in prison.

For me, my arrest and pending potential doom of incarceration were enough for me to quit drugs forever. Of course I was the only one not addicted to anything besides tobacco, but my drugs were of choice, not of self perceived necessity like heroin or meth addiction, like everyone but me that filled this particular Drug Diversion program.

Proposition 36 would have been just as affective for me, but not for the others. They would just continue to use drugs indefinitely including the other two graduates who did in fact continue to use drugs, even though in this particular instance, they were let go of their charges of drug offenses because they were able to attend four of the six session of the Drug Diversion program.

I was the only one that graduated out of the Drug Diversion program drug free. No more than a mere 3 percent success rate.

My experiences from that point on, throughout this present day has taught me that both Proposition 36 and Drug Diversion, as well as long term incarceration are ineffective in solving our drug problem.

Remember that man I told you about? Don’t think for one minute that if he is still serving and still alive, that he is not still shooting up heroin every day. Because, I can guarantee you he is, unless by some miracle he has been fortunate enough to either successfully complete a drug treatment program or was in the greater percentile to graduate from the Stanislaus County Drug Court.

For this poor soul, Drug Diversion was so much more devastating to this man’s life than Proposition 36 would ever have been. Though, of course, as I have said repeatedly, neither would have been effective for him to recover from his drug addiction.

In my ongoing work, I constantly deal with a population that can be classified into five distinct categories here in Stanislaus County:

1. Those that are in the Proposition 36 cyclic process.

2. Those that are in drug court.

3. Those that are facing long term incarceration.

4. Those that are not currently in the judicial system or a drug treatment program.

5. Those that are in a drug treatment program by their own accord or by the support/sponsorship of someone or some organization.

Of these five classifications, the most successful by far is Drug Court.

Though this statement is skewed by the severity of the fact that a significantly low percentage of Stanislaus County’s population of drug addicted individuals are granted the opportunity of the Drug Court Program. A percentage that has decreased exponentially since the implementation of the severely dysfunctional Proposition 36 process as well as the long term sentences of incarceration passed out like candy by conservative judges acting on misguided values that dictate harsh judicial deliberations for them without consideration of the drug offenders realistic future life – a life that is possible without the use of drugs. All stemming from the denial of the fact that drug addiction as a choice erodes as the addiction fully manifests itself to the point that after a series of bad decisions, it leaves the individual stranded and alone, generally, with no way of winning their battle with addiction. Just like the man I told you about that could not suffer through an hour and a half lecture once a week for no more than four of the six weeks of the Drug Diversion program to save himself from a 30 year period of incarceration.

I ask you - where is the freedom of choice here?

Unlike Proposition 36, Drug Court has the majority of its percentage of those five items of accountability that I previously mentioned:

1. The accountability of the offender.

2. The accountability of the treatment program(s).

3. The accountability of the courts.

4. The accountability of friends and family.

5. The accountability of the community.

Incarceration is but only one of several factors that contribute to Drug Court’s amazingly high success rate.

By insisting on the accountability of more than only one element of those five accountability factors, the success rate is remarkable and practically guaranteed in cases in which the offender truly desires to be free from his or her affliction of drug addiction.

But the slots available for Drug Court are minimal at best. A very small percentage of the drug addicted population of Stanislaus County are given this opportunity to redeem themselves and save their very own lives from the ravages of hard drugs.

And most certainly, these opportunities are not curtailed by Proposition 36 sentencing, because the slots are always full with a waiting list. So much so, that Proposition 36 or long term incarceration are not alternative sentencing based on a judges discretionary decision making of availability of all three options (Proposition 36, Drug court and long term incarceration), but rather due to Drug Court’s high expense and ever increasingly limited availability as a direct result in a recent economic downturn. Because of that, most of the drug addicted population of Stanislaus county either continue to use, whether incarcerated or not, or those that are not involved in the Proposition 36 process may seek out recover services on their own or via the motivation provided by church groups, other organizations, or someone like myself.

Those that enter recovery on their own have an extremely low success rate as well. It is extremely humanly difficult to rely on the strength of one’s own character when his or her very soul is held hostage by a demonic substance which controls their very thoughts.

Think about it. When was the last time you saw a self-performed exorcism? Perhaps it was the last time you saw someone overcome their addiction to drugs all by themselves without the help from anything outside of themselves. It is rare. Because the only choice they ever made about it were the few choices to do their drug of self perceived necessity the few times it took to reach their eventual point of no return – full addiction. They probably never saw it coming in the first place.

So there you have it. The three tools used by the Stanislaus County judicial system to treat drug offenders, as well as the two classifications of those that are not currently affected by the county’s Proposition 36 process, Drug Diversion or long term incarceration.

Respectively, also those that use addictive drugs on a daily basis and are not currently in recovery and those individual that are in recovery. Even divided further through a spectrum of usage of varying times per each individual on a case by case basis. Though so few seem to be interested in the details of a drug addicts horrible life.

Once of the clearest short term goals that must be realized is the necessity to increase the Drug Court program based on the educated conclusion that it is, by far, the most effective instrument we as the County of Stanislaus have at our disposal to remedy the individual’s involuntary afflictions of drug addiction.

That of course takes money. But to bring attention to and educate for the most effective weapon in our arsenal that produces the most desired results with our drug offenders is more slots for Drug Court.

Though I feel that Proposition 36 is a life threatening trap, I begrudgingly accept it’s existence, but not for the majority of Stanislaus County’s drug addicted population.

Concerted outreach by local drug treatment programs are pathetically affected by the wounds of our current economy, though this is a recent excuse for a long existing history of the same symptoms, which are not derived of apathy, but rather, of limited outreach and expansion to the drug addicted population.

The mythological lore which has educated us as a society of the capacity of solitary responsibility and accountability being held solely by the drug user him or herself has been an out of reach expectation of the community as whole, due to mass media and the American Governments’ over confidence in anti-drug propaganda which was thought to be able to “win the war on drugs.”

First we had “Reefer Madness”, and now, since that didn’t work at all, we have the DEA.

But the damage was far greater than it’s mere ineffectiveness.

It produced a complex and self-destructive understanding of an a-typical drug addict that came to represent all drug users in the United States as a whole. Most in particular it had this perceptual affect upon those individuals who had never been addicted to drugs themselves, therefore already limited in their understanding of the pain and suffering that this medical affliction causes.

Leaving with our collective American society’s perception and image, a mass public perception and assumption that drug addicts are not suffering from a toxic medical condition at all, but rather, that every time is the first time that they use their self perceived drug of necessity. That the decision to commit this act is made with a rational mind every single time once the addiction has a hold of them. As though no addiction exists.

Addiction, for the most part, has since been removed from the equation in this “war on drugs”, all along since those glorious “Reefer Madness” days of yesteryear.

Drug addiction is a medical emergency. A medical ailment that requires medical attention and treatment. Just like diabetes or Tuberculosis.

Without the acceptance of this fact, the recovery rates of Stanislaus County’s population of drug addicted individuals will continue to climb and inevitably these people will continue to suffer a horrible life all alone. A life in which, for the most part, they are shunned and despised by the majority of the non-drug using community.

For every single one of these individuals, there must be an offering of support. Not just by themselves solely as individuals, but by other segments of Stanislaus County as well.

We must raise the bar for ourselves if we as the County of Stanislaus and its respective citizens are sincere in our desire to affect positive change to our population of the drug addicted.

Copyright 2009 by Robert Stanford, All rights reserved.
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