With Three Graduates in May, Is Drug Court Failing in Yolo County?

courtroom.jpgIn the fall of 2008, Judge David Rosenberg and Judge Janet Gaard wrote an op-ed that appeared in both the Woodland Daily Democrat and the Davis Enterprise.  In it, they were arguing against Proposition 5, which was the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act, which was supposed to reduce the costs by pushing nonviolent drug offenders away from prison.

In that op-ed that focused mainly on the particulars of the proposition, they argued, “We believe in drug courts and the real possibility that drug courts can help people escape addictions and turn their lives around.”

However, if drugs courts can help people escape from these addictions, both of these Judges are part of a Yolo County Criminal Justice system that would appear to be failing on most counts.

In late may, the Yolo County Superior Court PIO sent out a press release celebrating the graduation of the most recent crop of Yolo County Drug Court Participants on May 24, 2010.

“The Felony Probation Drug Court has been operating in Yolo County since 1999.  The adult drug court is for prison bound defendants who have been convicted of non-violent crimes and have significant drug/alcohol addictions,” the release read.  “It offers criminal defendants an opportunity to be successful in treatment instead of going to state prison.”

It went on to claim a cost savings to taxpayers of $558,538, based on an annual cost of $52,363 for for incarceration as determined by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.  The total amount of suspended sentences was 10 years and 8 months from state prison.

Read the release, All graduates have successfully completed a local intensive treatment program, have a minimum of one year sobriety, are gainfully employed, have committed no new crimes, and have satisfied all other Felony Probation Drug Court requirements.

According to Judge Janet Gaard who presides over the Drug Court Calendar, “The success of the program reflects a strong collaboration between local governmental agencies and treatment providers to make a real difference in people’s lives.”  Representatives from these agencies and providers will attend the ceremony to offer their congratulations to the graduates.

“The graduates have become productive and responsible members of the community who have turned their lives around through hard work and dedication,” Florence Gainor Drug Court Coordinator added.

“Over the years, the Felony Probation Drug Court program has provided treatment and drug rehabilitation to dozens of local residents, has enabled them to reconnect with their families and communities, has saved taxpayers millions of dollars in prison costs, and has allowed these folks to get jobs, earn money, pay their own taxes, and become productive members of society,” said Presiding Superior Court Judge David Rosenberg.  “It’s a win-win-win scenario all around.”

All of which sounds great until you realize exactly three people graduated on May 24, 2010.  That is correct.  Three.

The Vanguard attempted on multiple occasions to speak with Florence Gainor the Drug Court Coordinator, but she never returned a call. 

Cathleen Berger, the Senior Court Analyst told the Vanguard that there is a rotating group of defendants.  “The maximum number of slots available is 40.  Defendants must be in the program 18 months minimum and have completed many other additional requirements to graduate,” she said.  “There were 4 other defendants who met the time criteria but had not completed the additional requirements.  Graduations are held twice a year.”

Even at 40, that number would seem very low compared to the number of people who move through the system on drug charges.  $558,538 is how much it would have cost to incarcerate just three individuals.  When you have hundreds if not thousands of individuals moving through the system just in Yolo County you start to get a sense for how much money is being waste.

One person that the Vanguard was able to speak to was Carlos Matos who retired last fall after working for the Yolo County Department of Alcohol and Drugs for 33 years as an outpatient, counselor, and therapist.  Many of his clients would participate in drug court.

“It seems like most people who are in drug court do not finish the program,” Carlos Matos told the Vanguard.  “The expectations and the restrictions are very high.  So they don’t have a very high success rate.  Not a lot of people complete it.”

One of the big questions that we never got to ask was who is eligible for participation in the drug court.  Even though the court has been around since 1995 and Mr. Matos worked directly with clients who went through the program, he did not have a good sense for the requirements or who qualifies.

“It’s kind of like a convoluted program because it’s hard to know who qualifies, who doesn’t, what the criteria is, I could never figure it out,” he said shaking his head.  “Even the clients can’t figure out how to get in.  Some can get in, some cannot.  It just depends on a lot of the circumstances.  I really cannot tell you because it’s kind of a convoluted program where there’s no clear cut guidelines, there’s a lot of statutes and stuff.”

More importantly, even with a more functional drug court, the county’s charging policies on drug possession may preclude participation in drug court.  Carlos Matos explained that Yolo County is one of the few counties to charge two felonies for simple possession.

“The DA in Yolo County charges two felonies for simple possession,” Carolos Matos explained.  “They’re using the law which the legislature changed years ago that says that transportation is any usable amount from Point A to Point B.  Instead of the old law that large amounts were considered transportation.”

“Most DA’s do not charge double felonies for people who get arrested for simple possession.  So that’s one of the things that I’m very concerned about,” he said.  In fact, it was one of the reasons he took early retirement along with the fact that the county was restricting who could use the drug counseling program.

The impact he said is devastating, “A lot of first time offenders, they tend to want to send them to prison because of the two felony thing and they use the transportation on top of the possession.”

The Vanguard asked whether double charging drug possession as sale and transportation would prevent the clients from going to drug court? Mr. Matos responded, “I don’t know exactly but it might.”

Charging people with felonies for such cases has a huge impact on their future, as most jobs will not hire ex-felons, nor will apartments rent to ex-felons, nor will banks lend to ex-felons.

“It’s an absolute nightmare, people get sent to prison for simply having pot in their system.  People tend to go to prison for drug charges instead of getting treatment,” Carlos Matos said.

“Once they go to prison and once they get charged with felonies, it changes their lives radically.  Very difficult when they come out of prison to adjust to their community.  It’s very difficult for them to get a job, to get an apartment, to get any kind of financial situation going with a felony on their record,” he continued.

Instead of getting people the help they need, it ends up driving them further into a life of addiction and crime.  “It tends to drive people into things that they weren’t into before like selling drugs to survive and make money.  Which is really a tragedy, besides when people go to prison they end up getting dope in prison anyway.  Prohibition is not really working, it didn’t work with alcohol in the twenties, it’s not working now.”

In contrast to claims of savings from drug court, the overall system is bankrupting the entire system.  “It’s a horrible system to lock up users into the prisons which is basically bankrupting the state,” said Mr. Matos.   “It makes no sense whatsoever.  Nobody gets better by going to prison if you’re a drug addict.  So why load up the prisons when somebody has a chemical dependency problem?”

Indeed, but unfortunately we could not get an answer to these questions from those who run the program.  We are not sure why, but we will continue to pursue this.

The bottom line is that the next time we hear about drug court as a solution to the war on drugs, remember the number 3, that is how many people graduated this past graduation.  And while it is great for those three individuals who can now move forward with their lives, it seems hardly a cause for celebration for the drug court and indeed the judicial system.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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28 Comments

  1. Fight Against Injustice

    It is interesting that the city of Davis gets grant money for fighting drugs and turns all this grant money over to the Yolo County DA’s budget to run this drug court. This year Davis received the Justice Assistance Grant for $18,372. The grant allows Davis to turn this money over if the Yolo County DA can do a better job than the Davis PD. Both Woodland and West Sacramento turn over their Justice Assistance grant money each year for this drug court too. This year West Sacramento is slotted to receive $35,363 from this grant, and Woodland will get $16,883. The money was even higher last year. I don’t know if citizens realize that grant money that has been given to their communities is being shipped out to the the Yolo DA’s budget for a program that has a success rate of 3. It calls to question whether this is a wise choice.

  2. Mr.Toad

    Finally a policy issue that is right on the money in your constant attacks against the DA. The double charges adding transportation to simple possession should be stopped. All the defense lawyers and the public defenders should take every case to trial until the DA stops this. Jam up the system, make juries convict and the courts adjudicate every absurd transportation case.

    As for drug court, what happens to those that don’t graduate? Don’t they stay in the system on probation getting drug tested and more counseling? Those that don’t graduate don’t all go to jail. By just looking at the graduation rate you could you be missing other cases that have better outcomes than the lock up.

  3. E Roberts Musser

    I’m not sure what you are saying w this article. On the one hand you don’t want to send drug users to jail, but are now complaining about a system that is ineffective in rehabilitating them bc it doesn’t seem to work – due to a lack of will by drug users to finish the program set out for them. So how is that the DA’s fault?

  4. David M. Greenwald

    That’s what you got out of the article Elaine?

    Where did you get lack of will from drug users? Also what makes you think that’s my complaint rather than the lack of resources put into a program that might work?

  5. David M. Greenwald

    BTW, I don’t think you can lay the failure of drug court just on the DA, I don’t think they invent the system or the program. They overcharge drug crimes, but that’s only a portion of the problem from what i have seen.

  6. westof113

    Could you please shed some light on the meaning of this quote:

    “It’s an absolute nightmare, people get sent to prison for simply having pot in their system. People tend to go to prison for drug charges instead of prison,” Carlos Matos said.

    This is a very serious issue, and as such, deserves our full attention. That being said, to have ‘nonsensical’ statements in the article does a disservice to the reader and to the cause.

  7. Ryan Kelly

    David, There are several Drug treatment programs in Yolo County. For adults, there seems to be two connected with the Court, per the Yolo County Website – PC1000 Drug treatment which is 6 months long and Felony Drug Court which is 18 months long. PC1000 treatment is for first-time, non-violent offenders who likely are busted for possessing drugs for personal use. Sentences are deferred if the person completes the program and then charges are dropped.

    Felony Drug Court is for people who have failed on probation or parole and requires a felony conviction. A prison sentence is suspended and the person is given a chance to go through the program instead. The program has extensive requirements beyond just staying clean. These are people who have gone to or are headed to prison and not just people who were caught with marijuana. It would be difficult for the average person to complete the program, with all of it’s demands, requirements and restrictions. So graduating is quite an accomplishment.

    Then there is Juvenile Drug Court, which is another topic altogether.

    There are no statistics available about how many people enter any of these programs and what happens to them. We see the few graduates from Felony Drug Court from time to time. Statistics on Juvenile Drug Court graduation numbers are available in the Yolo County report each year. But, I think it will be difficult to find out how many people complete the deferred program.

    You are correct in pointing out these programs are inappropriate for many people and so they drop out and don’t complete it. But it is unfair for you to lay the blame on the DA’s office alone. There are a lot of people who have jobs that depend on this money and need “customers.”

  8. David M. Greenwald

    “You are correct in pointing out these programs are inappropriate for many people and so they drop out and don’t complete it. But it is unfair for you to lay the blame on the DA’s office alone. There are a lot of people who have jobs that depend on this money and need “customers.” “

    In fact, I would argue that the DA’s office plays a key role in terms of their charging policies, but it seems that the drug court concept serves only a very small number of people. We need to create a system that keeps people who have done nothing other than commit a drug related offense out of the system. That’s not the DA’s fault, but double charging certainly does not help.

  9. westof113

    David: “westof: It was supposed to say, instead of treatment, rather than instead of prison. Is that your concern?”

    Well, yeah, that was my concern! NOW it makes sense. Thanks! You should probably take extra care when something is in quotes, attributed to someone by name, to be *completely* accurate. Don’t you think you owe it to the person you are quoting, not to mention to your readers and simply for the sake of accuracy in an important discussion?

  10. westof113

    Just wanted to add: I agree with you that current drug law makes no sense, and for myriad reasons. Thank you for shining a light on the District Attorney’s repugnant practice.

  11. Superfluous Man

    FAI,

    There are a few inaccuracies in your post. Davis, West Sacramento, Woodland and Yolo County all are, and have been for years, awarded Justice Assistance Grant funds. Each city and the county then allocate those funds to the DA’s Office. The aforementioned funds are used by the DA’s office to help fund the Yolo Narcotics Enforcement Team(YONET). Furthermore, these allocated funds also used partially fund the DA’s Major Narcotics Vendor Prosecutor(MNVP), who works closely with YONET and vertically prosecutes major narcotic crimes.

    Drug task forces and specialized prosecutors are but one way in which the Justice Assistance Grant may be utilized. JAG funds can be used to fund a number of programs…drug treatment programs too. The county and those three cities are not allocating funds to the ‘drug court’ program. They could decide to allocate their funds elsewhere, the grant permits this.

    Also, the JAG doesn’t ‘allow’ that money to be turned over to the DA ‘if’ they can do a better job, rather the cities and county have an agreement that the funds will be allocated to the DA’s office. It ‘s primarily a case of pooling available personnel and resources to combat narcotics crimes in the county.

  12. Superfluous Man

    David wrote, “In fact, I would argue that the DA’s office plays a key role in terms of their charging policies, but it seems that the drug court concept serves only a very small number of people. We need to create a system that keeps people who have done nothing other than commit a drug related offense out of the system. That’s not the DA’s fault, but double charging certainly does not help.”

    According to Prop36.org, “Prop. 36 has no effect on persons convicted of drug sales, manufacturing, or possession with intent to sell. They are excluded from treatment under the new law.”

    So, if a defendant is convicted of drug sales, manufacturing or possession with intent to sell, AND simple possession, they are NOT eligible for prop. 36 or any other alternative sentencing programs? Therefore, by convicting a defendant on one of the three aforementioned felony drug charges, the court cannot offer the defendant an alternative to incarceration?

    Technically, the DA’s not ‘double charging’ the defendant. Various factors are, or should be, taken into consideration, such as quantity, measurement tools(scales), baggies and containers, documented records of sales, and so forth, all of which could be pretty convincing evidence that an individual wasn’t simply possessing the drug for personal use.

    The legal definition of “transportation,” in the context of drug crimes, seems very broad to my mind. The distance itself can be a walk down the street. One mustn’t even technically be in possession of the drug in order to be charged and/or convicted of transporting drugs, as long as the amount knowledge and intent to transport a “usable” amount of the drug, by whatever means, evidently. Are those who have been convicted of “transportation” ineligible for Prop. 36 or alternative sentencing programs?

    If not, Mr Manto’s statement “”A lot of first time offenders, they tend to want to send them to prison because of the two felony thing and they use the transportation on top of the possession” is off a little. They don’t have a choice in certain circumstances, do they? Defendants with offenses that are more serious than simple possession simply cannot be given the option of diversion and drug treatment programs, right?

    If and when the DA’s office does ‘double charge’, what weight does that carry in the County’s drug court program? Isn’t this supposed to be a collaborative effort?

  13. E Roberts Musser

    DMG: “That’s what you got out of the article Elaine? Where did you get lack of will from drug users? Also what makes you think that’s my complaint rather than the lack of resources put into a program that might work?”

    This is a quote from your article: “All of which sounds great until you realize exactly three people graduated on May 24, 2010. That is correct. Three [out of 40]… One person that the Vanguard was able to speak to was Carlos Matos who retired last fall after working for the Yolo County Department of Alcohol and Drugs for 33 years as an outpatient, counselor, and therapist. Many of his clients would participate in drug court.
    “It seems like most people who are in drug court do not finish the program,” Carlos Matos told the Vanguard. “The expectations and the restrictions are very high. So they don’t have a very high success rate. Not a lot of people complete it.””

    So I ask again, how do you figure this is the DA’s fault? Ryan Kelly and Superflous Man also make some very valid points…

  14. David M. Greenwald

    The portion of this that is the DA’s fault is the the overcharging of cases that bumps it to a category that drug court cannot take in. There is also a portion of this that is the fault of the drug court itself and the reliance of Yolo County apparently on grant money to fund it. Just learned that part yesterday.

  15. Superfluous Man

    The SUBSTANCE ABUSE AND CRIME PREVENTION ACT OF 2000under 1210.1. Possession of Controlled Substances; Probation; Exceptions, states:

    “(b), any person convicted of a nonviolent drug possession offense shall receive probation. As a condition of probation the court shall require participation in and completion of an appropriate drug treatment program. The court may also impose, as a condition of probation, participation in vocational training, family counseling, literacy training and/or community service.”

    Furhtermore, “The term “nonviolent drug possession offense” means the unlawful possession, use, or transportation for personal use of any controlled substance identified in Section 11054, 11055, 11056, 11057 or 11058 of the Health and Safety Code, or the offense of being under the influence of a controlled substance in violation of Section 11550 of the Health and Safety Code. The term “nonviolent drug possession offense” does not include the possession for sale, production, or manufacturing of any controlled substance.” (http://www.adp.ca.gov/SACPA/Proposition_36_text.shtml),

    It seems that ‘transportation’ would not disqualify a defendant from receiving diversion and drug treatment (drug court), as I read the SACPA.

    Now, how does the fact that a defendant has been charged with both possession AND transportation result in said defendant’s being denied diversion or some alternative to incarceration? It would seem that those who drafted this law foresaw the ‘transportation’ issue and spearheaded this potential problem(ie double charging) by including ‘transportation’ as one of the nonviolent drug offenses that is covered by the SACPA.

    I would also posit this-aren’t the judges, who oversee the drug court program, aware of ‘double charging,’ or in other words, aware that anyone who is caught with certain drugs while in transit, could be charged with both possession AND transportation? I am fairly certain that the drug court judge in Yolo County is aware that ‘transportation’ does not preclude a nonviolent drug offender from receiving diversion and drug treatment.

    So, what correlation exists between the two charges(possession and transportation) the DA files and being denied drug court, which consequently lands these defendants in prison, as opposed to Prop 36?

  16. Superfluous Man

    David, you wrote, “The portion of this that is the DA’s fault is the the overcharging of cases that bumps it to a category that drug court cannot take in.”

    I agree that this ‘double charging’ is a bunch of nonsense in some cases, but can the DA be faulted for enforcing laws, when applicable, that the Legislature put in place? Technically, the DA is doing nothing unlawful or professionally unethical. You, others and myself might call shenanigans here, but that’s about it.

    Has anyone taken up this issue and challenged their state representative, as to have this law changed or abolished?

    Other than the transportation charge, which does not bump a case “into a category that drug court cannot take,” what other overcharges are you referring to? Possession w/intent to sell, manufacturing, etc? As I said previously, those charges must be substantiated by the DA’s office and the criminal justice system is obligated to seek truth and justice, at least that’s the goal anyway.

  17. Superfluous Man

    David wrote, “There is also a portion of this that is the fault of the drug court itself and the reliance of Yolo County apparently on grant money to fund it. Just learned that part yesterday.”

    Well, don’t they, or didn’t they(massive cuts), primarily rely of state funding, namely Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act of 2000 and Substance Abuse Offender Treatment Program funding? Is that what you’re referring to?

  18. David M. Greenwald

    “I agree that this ‘double charging’ is a bunch of nonsense in some cases, but can the DA be faulted for enforcing laws, when applicable, that the Legislature put in place?”

    As I understand that’s part of the prosecutorial discretion. Most DA’s don’t charge the transportation, and Reisig is one of the few who don’t.

    So there’s the answer to the question, apparently adding transportation charges does not bump it out of drug court. So we have to look elsewhere for that culprit.

  19. Superfluous Man

    David,

    Only three graduated out of 40? Do we know if the available 40 slots were filled? I don’t quite understand how to measure “success” given the information provided in your piece.

    What is the state’s average success rate?

  20. Superfluous Man

    David,

    Yeah, it is within his discretion not to charge a defendant with transportation and I wish he wouldn’t. Is it Matos’ anecdote…that Reisig is one of only a few DA’s who tag on the transportation charges for simple possession cases? To what advantage is that to the DA? If the defendant fails, then they serve a longer sentence or if they get convicted again, they are not eligible for certain alternatives to incarceration?

    I wonder what the purpose is or the mindset. Is it just a “no holds barred” approach to prosecution?

  21. E Roberts Musser

    How about putting blame where blame belongs on the high drop out rate with respect to drug court – on the drug users who cannot discipline themselves enough to stop using?

    And frankly, from your article DPD, I cannot figure out where you are coming from. Do you want to do away with drug court, bc it is not effective and seems to you to be a collosal waste of money? Is that what you are advocating here? Because before, you seemed to indicate you preferred drug users not be incarcerated, but put into drug diversion programs like this. Which is it? Or perhaps you are advocating for the legalization of drugs?

    But I am not seeing the connection between 1)the low graduation rate of drug offenders and 2)fault on the DA’s part. It just doesn’t follow logically. The state directed that there be drug diversion programs, so there are drug diversion programs. The fact that the drug courts have few drug users successfully graduating speaks more to the difficulty of kicking a drug habit than it does to anything else.

  22. David M. Greenwald

    Elaine:

    First, addiction is a very difficult thing to deal with. Instead of trying to put resources towards prevention and rehab, we are putting tons of resources into the criminal justice system, that is not money well spent.

    Second, do I want to do away with drug court? Not necessarily. I want to do away with incarceration for people unless they have committed property crimes or acts of violence. Could drug court be a means to achieve this? Possibly. There may also be more effective ways. Think about this, we were going to pay $553,000 to put these people in prison and that’s just three people. Something tells me we could cure them of their addiction for far less.

  23. E Roberts Musser

    DMG: “Something tells me we could cure them of their addiction for far less.”

    How? On the one hand you say we could cure them for far less, but then also say “addiction is a very difficult thing to deal with”. Perhaps the idea that we can “cure” a drug addict is quixotic at best and a pipe dream at worst? It is nice to think that we can “rehabilitate” non-violent drug offenders, but the truth is that in most cases the “disease” of drug addiction is not “curable”. That is just the reality.

    So the question becomes: is it worth spending inordinant amounts of money on drug treatment courts that essentially are very ineffective, or figure that any amount of money is worth saving a few. Now remember, that the exhorbitant amount of money used for drug court could be used to far greater effect to provide health services to the low income who did not break the law.

    But if you have the answer to treating a drug addict cheaply that would also be more effective, I’m all ears…

  24. Superfluous Man

    ERM,

    First , can we take one sample(provided in this article), which has been asserted to have had a low success rate, to mean that SACPA in general or more specifically Yolo County’s Drug Court program is unsuccessful? This is only one sample; the program has been in place for years in this county and statewide. It’s hardly a representative sample for which any conclusions or sound analysis of the program’s successes and failures can be derived.

    Second, three graduated, but out of how many, 40(we don’t know the total)? Even so, is that low? What is the state average? As a matter of course, we should determine, quantifiably, what is “low,” “average” and high” in this context. If 3 out of 40 is average, than those numbers are not dismal, they’re the norm, relatively speaking.

    Thirdly, success of SACPA, as based on what exactly? Are those with substance abuse problems more likely to complete drug court as opposed to those who enter themselves into drug treatment facilities? However, those who enter treatment on their own may have more serious substance abuse problems than those who end up in drug court-just because you are caught with a small amount whatever illicit substance that doesn’t necessarily mean they are addicts.

    Is it only a success if the majority complete treatment or graduate from drug court?Success is defined as what here?

    Forth, even if drug court is not as effective as some would like, does that mean that incarceration is more effective or a better alternative, as it relates to the state’s economic well being and safety of the public?

    The state could just decriminalize simple possession, but at what cost to the state and its citizens…

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