Drug courts have long been regarded as a cheaper, more effective alternative to prison sentences for those who struggle with addiction and are facing felony charges.
Drug court provides substance abuse treatment for individuals who face low-level felony drug and theft charges. This requires collaboration between the defendant, lawyers, prosecutors, and judges. At the center of the program, however, is the looming threat of a felony charge if participants are unable to complete the program. Many argue that without the threat of a felony, most would not be willing to comply with a treatment program and the more leverage a court has in forcing an individual to comply with treatment, the better they do in the long-run.
Pros and Cons to Prop 47
Proposition 47 has been introduced as a method of providing treatment beds for those who want them, rather than those who are forced to take them in order to avoid incarceration. Under Proposition 47, most drug crimes are reclassified as misdemeanors instead of felony charges. Many argue that treatment is not meaningful unless the individual wants help for their addiction, while others state that some, without the incentive of avoiding a felony charge and jail time, will be less likely to seek help. Instead, people will simply accept the misdemeanor charge and continue using drugs. Even with the threat of prison time removed from the equation, the threat of incarceration still exists in misdemeanor convictions and program violations. Click here to read more about California Drug Laws.
Proponents of Prop 47 cite high incarceration rates and drug-use rates when questioning the effectiveness of the drug-court system and the threat of felonies in encouraging those with addiction to seek help. Furthermore, Prop 47 claims to save money spent on imprisoning drug users, instead channeling that money to California’s drug rehabilitation centers and other treatment options. Rather than viewing it as a blow to those who struggle with addiction, chairwoman of the Prop 47 campaign Lenore Anderson expressed her belief that this would provide an opportunity to strengthen and diversify the drug-court model.
Some graduates of drug court treatment programs state that although they may have joined halfheartedly to avoid felony charges, the program did change them and transform their lives in meaningful ways. Everyone in the program during the time Prop 47 was enacted was offered the chance to leave the program and take a misdemeanor charge; however, no one elected to go that route. Under Prop 47, there has been a sharp decrease in the number of individuals who enter the drug court program and the courts believe there is a large population of individuals who would otherwise benefit from the assistance of the program. In order to save the program, those involved have been examining ways in which they can reach new populations of individuals, such as those who are charged with low-level drug sales, vandalism, and burglary. Expanding the types of individuals eligible for the program could keep it alive and provide a way for many to receive help with their addiction.
It is difficult to fully assess the total impact of Proposition 47 on an individual’s ability and willingness to seek help for addiction; however, many graduates stand behind the program sharing sentiments that, although they were compelled to enter the program, in the end it made a positive and meaningful difference in their lives.