Vanguard Webinar: AB 1542 – Alternative to Prison or Prison by Another Name? (Video)

AB 1542 authorizes judges to sentence people to confinement in a locked treatment facility instead of prison or jail if the judge determines that their crime was motivated in part by substance abuse.

While proponents argue that such substance abusers have a medical condition that is best addressed through treatment as opposed to punishment and many reform groups support increasing the availability of evidence-based voluntary treatment for people who struggle with problematic use of psychoactive substances, opponents argue that “this bill proposes forcing people involuntarily into “secured” or locked treatment, regulated by the courts, thus blurring the lines between medical care and punishment, and undermining the goal of helping those in need.”

Human Rights Watch put it this way: “It runs directly counter to the principle of free and informed consent to mental health treatment, which is a cornerstone of the right to health. Conflating health treatment and jailing, as envisioned by AB 1542, risks substantial human rights abuse, is ineffective as a treatment, and takes resources and policy focus away from initiatives that are much more likely to help people.”

Joining the Panel will be bill author Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) as well as renowned Professor Leo Beletsky, Professor of Law and Health Sciences and Faculty Director, Health in Justice at Northeastern University in Boston.

Leo Beletsky’s expertise is in the public health impact of laws and their enforcement, with a special focus on drug overdose, infectious disease transmission, and criminal justice reform through a public health lens.

Professor Beletsky is a frequent media commentator on public health law and policy, health equity and policing.

In a recent article in Commonwealth, Beletsky and John Messinger called on states to move to “end involuntary civil commitment” – “one of the biggest tragedies of COVID-19 behind bars has been in correctional institutions housing people who have not been convicted of a crime. This includes thousands of residents in Massachusetts — and other states – who are being involuntarily held because of their addiction.”

Full panel:

Kevin McCarty, Assemblymember
Leo Beletsky, Professor of Law and Health Sciences and Faculty Director, Health in Justice
Kate Chatfield, Attorney and Criminal Justice Advocate (was not able to participate)
Kellen Russoniello, Drug Policy Alliance
Robert Canning, Clinical Psychologist, Retired, CDCR, Vanguard Board Member
Rodney Beede, Attorney, Yolo County Conflict Counsel


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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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