Drug use has always been a controversial issue in California. Over the years, questions have been raised about legalizing marijuana and what kinds of treatment or punishment the state should offer to certain types of drug offenses. Proposition 5 is an initiative that should seem familiar to us. In the 2000 election, Proposition 36 was passed, which sought to institute a drug diversion program that rehabilitated people convicted of non-violent drug possession crimes. According to a study by the UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Program, taxpayers received $2.50 for every dollar they invested in running the programs set forth by Proposition 36, proving its effectiveness. Thus, it saved the state money that would have been spent on incarcerating non-violent inmates.
Proposition 5 seeks to expand the direction of Proposition 36. It aims to rehabilitate non-violent inmates rather than incarcerate them, a route you would think would be ideal. California prisons have been overcrowded for years. As a result, gymnasiums and other administrative or recreational rooms have been turned into living spaces. It is estimated that each inmate costs California nearly $35,000 annually. When 19 percent of inmates are in jail for drug offenses, that amount begins to add up quickly.
Everyone can agree that drug use is an addiction. Anyone who has experienced a phenomenon like addiction knows how powerful the need is to get your fix, whatever that may be. Just because you lock someone up inside a prison for a certain amount of time does not mean that they are automatically cured of their addiction. When released, these non-violent drug offenders go back into their communities, to their friends and often to drugs. Proposition 5 aims to help offenders successfully transition back into their communities. It seeks to send offenders to rehab, Narcotics Anonymous meetings and education programs that actually treat the person with the addiction.
In addition to these educational programs, the proposition will insert a clause that will seal the criminal records of low-level, non-violent drug offenders after successful completion of treatment. This is a fantastic idea and one that will make a difference in the lives of these individuals. When people see the word “drug offender” on a piece of paper, it makes them cringe. By sealing the records for this non-violent offense, it enables offenders to have better chances at employment and a better chance at changing their lives.
Most people fail to realize that addiction is not a choice. Drug abusers can be mentally ill and a victim of their own circumstances. The problem with the prison system is the fact that they lock you up and really don’t care about making you a better person. These offenders often need help that they can only get outside prison walls: counseling, job training, financial resources and CalWORKS (a temporary financial assistance program), just to name a few.
Proposition 5 can help these people achieve independence from drugs. It’s not a spending issue; it’s a human issue and it’s what is morally right. It’s easy to judge when you’ve been lucky enough not to experience addiction first-hand. We need to treat these people humanely and make sure they get the help they need in order to live a drug-free life.
Alisa Driscoll is a third-year classical civilization major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Filed Under: Opinion