Proposition 5 saves money, helps fight drug abuse

by Dooley-Sammuli, Yes on 5 Campaign, Modesto Bee

Editor’s note: This article was submitted in rebuttal to The Bee’s editorial, "We need tough love; Prop. 5 is too soft," which appeared Oct. 7 and is available at

Proposition 5 is the only measure on the ballot in November that will cut costs and improve public safety. According to the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst, Proposition 5 will reduce prison operating costs by $1 billion or more per year, and will save another $2.5 billion by avoiding new prison construction.

California spends too much on drug and alcohol addiction in all the wrong ways. Proposition 5 cuts costs by safely reducing prison overcrowding over time and by offering treatment and rehabilitation to nonviolent youth and drug offenders. Treatment does cost, but it costs much less than incarceration — and is more effective at preventing future drug-motivated crime because it teaches people how to abstain from using drugs.

There’s no denying that California’s criminal justice system is broken. Two decades ago we took nearly all treatment and rehabilitation out of our prison and parole systems, and now we are paying the price. More than 170,000 people are crammed into prisons built for 100,000. We taxpayers spend over $10 billion per year on our prisons, and almost none of that gets spent on programs to reduce recidivism.

Every month 10,000 people finish their prison sentences and are released back into the community. Almost none of them received any meaningful treatment or rehabilitation while behind bars. About 70 percent will be sent back to prison within three years for violating parole or for committing a new crime. That return rate is twice the national average.

Proposition 5 would make smart changes to enhance public safety and cut costs to taxpayers. That’s why it is supported by the League of Women Voters, California Nurses Association, California Federation of Teachers and the Consumer Federation of California — among many others.

Proposition 5 is systemwide reform. It starts by creating support services for young people struggling with drugs. It expands access to court-supervised treatment and increases accountability for offenders in those programs. It puts rehabilitation back in our prisons. Meanwhile, it increases parole supervision of serious and violent offenders.

Proposition 5 builds on California’s proven diversion programs, while increasing judicial power to hold offenders accountable. In Proposition 5, as soon as the first violation of probation judges can jail participants for a short time, as a sanction, then return them to treatment or remove them from the program entirely.

Importantly, Proposition 5 also allows judges to decide on a case-by-case basis whether to divert other nonviolent offenders to drug treatment. Nonviolent offenders may only be diverted if the judge finds that drug treatment would be in the best interests of public safety. Judges would have broad powers to monitor such offenders closely, impose sanctions including jail time or terminate the program for noncompliance.

All of this reduces drug use and enhances public safety. By making these smart choices, we can help tens of thousands of people each year break their addictions and break the cycle of crime and incarceration. That makes us all better off. Vote Yes on Prop. 5.