The LA Times has a long article today that must surely warm the heart of the politicians and law enforcement officials who are pushing to dismantle Prop. 36. Prop. 36, of course, is the voter-approved California initiative that allows first- and second-time nonviolent drug offenders to be sentenced to treatment rather than incarceration. But this LAT article paints it as a core reason that there are “revolving doors” on jail cells, with many low level offenders cycling in and out of custody.
There are two weird things about this article. First, its almost total lack of balance with regard to Prop. 36 is aggravating. The only perspectives that are quoted are those of cops, who say things like “We need to let the courts know Prop. 36 is not working for a lot of people.” No drug policy experts are quoted. No addiction scholars. Just police officers, giving the quotes you expect them to give and being paraphrased as saying that “their sympathies lie with victims.” The article as a whole reads like an indictment of the idea of non-carceral approaches to drug crime, without suggesting why or how any alternative approach could produce a better result.
The second thing that’s odd is that in this long discussion of the system and the role Prop. 36 plays in it, there’s no mention at all of the significant modification to Prop. 36 that was signed into law in July. That modification would allow “” of drug offenders, just the kind of thing that law enforcement presumably wants. But it’s stuck in court right now, because it may very likely be unconstitutional change to the initiative.
It’s distressing to see the way the media’s portrayal of criminal justice issues plays into the development of bad policies and the dismantling of policies that, whatever their flaws, might actually be better than more hysterical alternatives. In this article, the big unspoken premise seems to be that it would be better just to lock low level drug offenders up and keep them in prison, or perhaps some sort of coerced “treatment” that combines jail and therapy. But why would this possibly be a smart solution, given that LA jails are already bursting at the seams, given that California prisons are so overcrowded that the governor has literally declared a state of emergency?