Proposition 5 provides drug treatment and saves money

by Dave Fratello, San Jose Mercury News

Only one initiative on the ballot in November actually cuts state costs: Proposition 5. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst says it will reduce prison operating costs by $1 billion or more per year, and will save another $2.5 billion by avoiding new prison construction.

Proposition 5, the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act, achieves those savings by safely reducing prison overcrowding. It offers treatment and rehabilitation for youth, nonviolent offenders and prisoners and parolees. Sure, treatment costs money, too, but much less than incarceration.

Let’s face it, our criminal justice system in California isn’t working. The balance has tilted away from treatment and rehabilitation. There are 170,000 people crammed into prisons built for 100,000. Prisons cost $10 billion per year, but almost no money goes to rehabilitation of prisoners. About 70 percent of former inmates go back to prison within three years ‘ a rate twice the national average.

The system is broken, and now is the time to fix it.

Ask most critics of Proposition 5 what their plan is, and you’ll get silence. The prison crisis today results from resistance by law enforcement leaders to a long string of sensible reforms. The Legislature is hamstrung. The federal courts are preparing to take over our prisons. With Proposition 5, voters can have their say before federal judges impose a solution.

Proposition 5 is the smart way to enhance public safety and cut state costs by reducing prison overcrowding. That’s why it is supported by the League of Women Voters of California, California Nurses Association and the Consumer Federation of California. All of the state’s major drug treatment groups support it, too.

Proposition 5 is a systemwide reform that can help tens of thousands of people each year to break their addictions, and break the cycle of crime and incarceration. It starts by creating support services for young people struggling with drugs. Right now, the state offers virtually no help for young people struggling with substance abuse. Proposition 5 expands access to court-supervised treatment and increases accountability for offenders in such programs.

Drug courts and Proposition 36 programs, created by a voter initiative in 2000, provide some promising alternatives to incarceration now. But state funding for both systems has been chopped. This is a mistake. Cutting treatment means increasing incarceration costs.

Proposition 5 makes research-based improvements to both systems, giving judges more power to hold offenders accountable. Judges can impose sanctions in response to an offender’s first problem during treatment, escalating in severity to 10 days in jail. For repeat violations, the judge can jail the individual for a year or more.

Finally, Proposition 5 tackles the prison crisis. The state prison system has given up on rehabilitation behind bars, with disastrous results. Proposition 5 turns that around, requiring the prison system to increase rehabilitation behind bars and for all offenders on parole. At the same time, Proposition 5 focuses parole agents on serious and violent offenders by extending the amount of time such offenders would be supervised.

We can no longer accept the status quo in California. It’s costly and ineffective. It’s time to invest in early intervention, treatment and proven recidivism-reduction programs for prisoners and parolees. Vote yes on Proposition. 5.