Despite Claims Bill Turns ‘Healthcare Into Incarceration,’ Legislation that Impacts Yolo County Clears CA Committee



By Jose Medina

SACRAMENTO, CA – Opponents of legislation that benefits only Yolo County and purports to help people with drug problems, may turn “healthcare into incarceration,” according to opponents – the bill passed the California State Assembly Public Safety Committee this week.

The Yolo County pilot project would create an alternative to incarceration for convicted people struggling with drug addiction, it claims.

But those in opposition maintain the bill is the wrong way to help those with drug addiction.

Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) authored AB 1542, which would allow Yolo County to offer the HOPE Yolo Secured Residential Treatment program for individuals suffering from substance use disorders and who have been convicted of nonviolent drug-related felonies.

This bill provides a voluntary program for individuals so they would have an opportunity to get treatment for their addiction instead of being sent to jail.

Assemblymember McCarty pointed out that “the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 58 percent of state prisoners and 63 percent of jailed inmates meet the criteria for drug dependence or abuse.”

Noting the shortcomings of incarceration, he added that “incarceration is not the answer to treat substance use disorders; evidence-based treatment given by health care providers is” and that this bill aims to assist those convicted with drug-related crimes.

Aside from being able to treat their drug addiction Assemblymember McCarty said “individuals who successfully complete the program will also receive record expungement.”

However, Tyler Rinde with the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California, told the committee that he opposed the bill, arguing “compulsory or coerced SUD treatment is not an effective means of promoting positive clinical outcomes for individuals with substance abuse disorders.”

Rinde added, “offering locked treatment as an alternative to incarceration when the individual would not have otherwise accepted treatment outside of this situation can foster distrust between treatment providers and clients.”

A caller with the Human Rights Watch also voiced strong opposition to the measure, noting how giving someone an ultimatum between incarceration and treatment in a jail-like facility inherently conflicts with one’s right to freely consent to be treated.

He was appalled, he said, that the bill “is turning healthcare into incarceration” in a time when the nation is currently calling for alternatives to incarceration.

The District Attorney from Yolo County, Jeff Reisig, called in as a witness in support of the bill, said “prisons and jails are not places where people who are sick go to get better…we have people who have been arrested dozens of times for burglary and auto theft crimes not getting the proper help from the system.”

Reisig emphasized that the bill will propose a local treatment alternative for people who have been convicted of felony-level crimes that were motivated by their serious addiction to drugs but who pose too much of a risk to the community and themselves.

He added that the bill’s goal is “creating a secure hospital-like treatment environment with no guns, no bars that can serve as a sanctuary designed and staffed by treatment providers.”

Despite hearing from many callers in strong opposition, committee supported the legislation.

Assemblymember Tom Lackey stated that he supported the bill, “some lives are going to be fixed and that is powerfully important if it is implemented the way it states it will.”

Assemblymember Buffy Wicks showed hesitation in supporting the bill but ultimately ended up supporting it, arguing the status quo is not doing enough for people struggling with drug addiction going through the legal system.

She posed the question to the opposition asking, “is locked treatment not worse than no treatment in an institution?”

Rinde passionately answered “forced treatment may have the possibility of unintentionally raising the risk of overdose.” adding that “if they are not motivated to get the treatment then the treatment will not be as effective to the individual.”

Raphling chimed in saying that “certain people coming out of jail may be at risk and we certainly need to bolster treatment programs outside of and not connected to the legal system (but) forcing people into treatment is not going to be effective.”

Assemblymember Bill Quirk, concerned about who would be staffing this program, asked “you are not going to use probation officers are you?”

Unable to provide a clear answer to the question, Reisig answered “Well, we haven’t figured that piece out the idea is that this is a hospital-like setting obviously there will be lots of treatment staff there.”

He added that “there will be somebody there to keep people safe. We’re not envisioning bars, and guns, and guards. Whether that’d be some other staff we just don’t know.”

Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan voiced her support of the bill by saying “these are people that are struggling with a disease and I believe this bill says sending them to an incarceration system isn’t helping them and that this is providing an option for them to change their lives for the better.”

Assemblymember McCarty confidently closed by saying “the current system of going to jail is not a viable one. It’s not working, I don’t see any harm here because worst-case scenario we find out what works and doesn’t work and come back and do it at a different county. Best case scenario we save some lives and make it work throughout California.”

Seven out of the eight members of the Public Safety committee voted in support of the bill with Assemblymember Quirk not recording a vote. It moves to the Assembly Health Committee.

Jose graduated from UC Davis with a BA in Political Science and has interned for the California State Legislature. He is from Rocklin, CA.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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12 thoughts on “Despite Claims Bill Turns ‘Healthcare Into Incarceration,’ Legislation that Impacts Yolo County Clears CA Committee”

  1. Alan Miller

    I’ve been trying to make any sense out of the opposition to this bill and I can’t.  It’s like the logic doesn’t make sense.  These are people who have committed felonies and are incarcerated, and will be given a choice of jail or treatment — and somehow that’s being called ‘forced’ treatment?  How is having one additional choice to jail ‘forced’?  And the argument that, “if they are not motivated to get the treatment then the treatment will not be as effective to the individual” is a statement true of all substance abusers, inside and outside of incarceration – but also if they aren’t motivated they won’t get treatment, so I’m not sure what this argument even is.

    The only clue I found that makes any sense out of no sense to me is the opponent saying, “the bill ‘is turning healthcare into incarceration’ in a time when the nation is currently calling for alternatives to incarceration.”  Yet throughout this is being called an alternative to incarceration – so if I understand, the opponent is simply opposed to anything that doesn’t have door to the outside world that a convicted felon can walk through, and the opposition is actually to that, not this program as such.  But clearly this program, as Reisig points out, is for a “local treatment alternative for people who have been convicted of felony-level crimes that were motivated by their serious addiction to drugs but who pose too much of a risk to the community and themselves.”  Italicized part – in other words – people who should not be in society.

    Clearly, our system as it stands isn’t working.  Let’s try this program and see if it works.

    I appreciate the balanced reporting of this article.

  2. Eric Gelber

    Here’s the text of correspondence I’ve sent to the Board of Supervisors about this bill:

    At its April 20th meeting, the Board will be presented with an update on AB 1542 (McCarty). This bill would authorize Yolo County to offer a pilot program for individuals with substance abuse disorders (SUDs) who have been convicted of certain drug-motivated felonies as an alternative to jail or prison. While this agenda item is informational only, I want to express my strong opposition to AB 1542 in its current form.

    I am now retired but was, for 26 years, a disability rights attorney with the state’s designated non-profit protection and advocacy agency for people with disabilities, which includes individuals in treatment for SUDs. I have also held positions as Chief Consultant for the Assembly Human Services Committee and as legislative director for the State Department of Developmental Services.

    Although AB 1542 purports to offer a convicted defendant the choice of “voluntary” participation in the pilot program as an alternative to a jail or prison sentence, the choices offered are limited to highly restrictive settings—jail or prison vs. a secured (i.e., locked) residential treatment facility. This so-called “choice” is illusory and coercive. It cannot be characterized as voluntary and is antithetical to the principle of free and informed consent to mental health treatment.

    The arguments against the proposed treatment model are thoroughly presented in the Assembly Public Safety Committee analysis of the bill, particularly in the quoted input from Human Rights Watch. Therefore, I will not reiterate them here. Suffice it to say that coerced, involuntary SUD treatment has generally been found to be less effective than voluntary treatment. A recent review of the literature concluded:

    “Based on the available peer-reviewed scientific literature, there is little evidence that compulsory drug treatment is effective in promoting abstention from drug use or in reducing criminal recidivism. It is noteworthy that this systematic review includes evaluations of not only drug detention centers, but of a range of compulsory inpatient and outpatient treatment approaches. Additionally, the reductions in drug use and criminal recidivism as a result of compulsory drug treatment interventions were generally short-term or of low clinical significance. In light of the lack of evidence suggesting that compulsory drug treatment is effective, policymakers should seek to implement evidence-based, voluntary treatment modalities in order to reduce the harms of drug use.”

    The Effectiveness of Compulsory Drug Treatment: A Systematic Review, Int. J. Drug Policy; February 2016; 28: 1-9.

    Providing SUD treatment as an alternative to prison or jail time is a worthy goal. However, Yolo County should not be developing, piloting, or promoting punitive, restrictive, and coercive treatment programs as opposed to state of the art evidence-based voluntary treatment modalities to reduce the harms of drug use.

    I urge the Board of Supervisors, at the appropriate time, to register with the Legislature an Oppose Unless Amended position on AB 1542, as amended March 30, 2021, to require that defendants have the option of choosing to voluntarily participate in a treatment program in the least restrictive setting appropriate, as recommended by professionals experienced with voluntary evidence-based SUD treatment programs, and which would include unlocked, non-institutional residential settings in the community combined with access to other harm-reduction and supportive health and social services.

    Thank you for your consideration of this input.
    Eric Gelber

    1. Alan Miller

      EG, I read that twice and I still don’t get it.  It’s like you’re saying an orange is a grapefruit.  These are people who are already incarcerated, being given one more choice.  How is that coercive?  How is that forced?  How do you give those who would otherwise be in a locked facility the opportunity get treatment, but an open door?  Would most every felon eligible just lie, and then walk through the unlocked door?  They CAN’T be a voluntary program because they are locked up so how is that even an argument? This gives them an option for treatment. And considering that trying this will give us more data (maybe), why not try it?  I don’t get your argument at all, and I suspect most of those voting on this don’t either.

      1. Eric Gelber

        Well, part of the problem is that this choice is offered post-conviction, unlike pre-trial diversion. Pre-trial, there’s an actual meaningful choice to be made—go to trial and risk incarceration in a locked penal facility or opt for voluntary treatment in the least restrictive appropriate community setting—and this program would make more sense.

        1. Alan Miller

          I realize there is no trust of Reisig here, but he says this applies to people who shouldn’t be in society because of their crimes.  So could there be a shorter sentence offered for ‘passing’ the treatment and pißß tests?

        2. Eric Gelber

          It’s not a matter of trust. It’s a matter of developing a pilot program without involving professionals familiar with alternative, voluntary treatment models, patient rights, etc.

          1. David Greenwald

            Opposing this include mental health folks including NAMI, drug policy folks, homeless advocates, public defenders and justice reform people. As Eric says, it’s not a matter of trust, Reisig failed to bring in the stakeholders in his own county other than elected officials like Gary Sandy, Bill Dodd, and Cecilia Aguiar-Curry.

        3. Ron Oertel

          My impression is that the folks who oppose this are generally the same ones who support the “right” to continue living on sidewalks while using drugs and alcohol – even when other options are offered.

          Also, the same ones who support “housing first”, which means continuing with the “right” to use drugs and alcohol in subsidized facilities.

  3. Chris Griffith

    Whether it’s pretrial or post trial I don’t really think it matters as long as they fulfill their obligations they’re good to go if they screw it up throw them back in prison and let the cats eat them. If you don’t take the carrot and stick approach these guys will play it for all it’s worth.

    That’s just my humble conservative

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