Yesterday I sat in various courtrooms in the Orange County Superior Court in downtown Santa Ana. The first was Court 60 which previously had been where all the felony drug convictions were handled. I have spent many hours in this particular court. I watched my son start a moderate outpatient program that consisted of random drug testing and attending self-help meetings.
I attended again when he was arrested for his first, then second, then third and finally his fourth probation violation. I listened to the sob stories of reformed addicts and those, like my son, who failed miserably no matter which program they were given by the Commissioner. All of these people had one single thing in common: a drug addiction and the need for consistent help to get out of their endless loop of petty crime and drug use.
While I sat in court time after time, one thing i knew for sure is that the tax money I paid for our judicial system actually had a few safety nets for those that fell. Whether it be Drug Court or court ordered in-patient treatment, the State could help these people who could not help themselves. Yes they spent time in Jail, yes many didn’t take advantage of the hand extended to them but i always left Court 60 feeling like all was not lost.
Enter Prop 47. Endorsed by virtually all politicians and touted to be the way to spend more money on schools and less money on prisons. The opportunity for my son to have his charges reduced from felonies to misdemeanors was appealing. The promise of more money for drug treatment rather than the harsh jails (believe me I have been to all three of the Orange County Jails so harsh is actually a nice term) sounded almost too good to be true. Well guess what voters of California it was.
I watched the dirty little secret of Proposition 47 play out yesterday in my day long journey to three different court rooms in the OC Superior Courthouse. First in Court 60, I watched as the public defenders handed out goldenrod forms to petition for Prop 47 reclassification of a drug conviction. People who were high on methamphetamine as they stood there were terminated from drug programs and given informal probation. No more drug tests, no more probation officers and no more mandatory drug programs.
On to Court 57. More of the same. All felonies reduced, formal probation terminated, drug program requirement terminated. In Court C5 it felt like Groundhog Day as more and more inmates were released and given informal probation and drug treatment orders terminated.
“The new law also derails drug court, where felony charges were set aside for offenders who completed treatment regimens. Those who succeed have a high success in staying sober, but without the threat of jail, there is little incentive to participate, said Mark Delgado, executive director of the Countywide Criminal Justice Coordination Committee, which runs those programs.”
Perhaps the saddest example of the fraud that is Prop 47, was a female inmate sitting behind the protective glass in Courtroom 57. Frail and hauntingly beautiful she plead to her public defender that she needed to be out to hug and kiss and support her two year old child. But the sad fact was that she failed three different drug tests and was arrested (yet again) for being with another probationer who had drugs on his person. She had her felony conviction reduced to a misdemeanor and drug program requirement terminated. It wasn’t for her that I felt bad, it was for her child who would have a mother with no reason or money to seek treatment. The safety net that existed previously from Prop 36 and PC1210 has been torn and in its wake I foresee destroyed families (As parents who have been through the same ordeal as me know- the threat of jail is sometimes the only thing that will persuade addicts to try out sobriety- even if for a little while) and a rise in petty crimes. As long as the addict can stay under the $950 dollar threshold, they will be free to continue to steal bikes and cell phones and get just enough money for that next fix.
I voted for Prop 47. I selfishly wanted my son to have a reduced sentence and a chance to correct his youthful indiscretions. I admit I didn’t really care what happened to anyone but my child. But now i see that the dirty little secret behind Prop 47 is freeing people and offering zero help towards redemption. My son is lucky. He has a family that will support any attempts by him to get out of addiction and I have the health insurance that will fund his recovery. The others like that pretty girl in Courtroom 57 will not.
So i have to ask the authors of proposition 47: When exactly will all this money be used to help the thousands you have released from any sort of supervision or accountability for their drug use? Where is the help for those that need it now? Can you explain this to my son’s grandmother between her pain and tears? This is the last hope for so many lost souls and what do you do? Put them on the streets with nothing but a chance to use again without the threat of consequence.