By David M. Greenwald
Sacramento, CA – Back in May Kevin McCarty had to defend his bill, AB 1542, from a number of groups that are normally allies of his on the Vanguard webinar. He had no such problem when the bill made it to the Assembly floor. Kevin McCarty’s Yolo County bill passed through the Assembly floor on a vote of 65-1, with only a single Republican member opposing.
AB 1542 was authored by Assemblymember McCarty in partnership with Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig and Yolo County Supervisor Gary Sandy. State Senator Bill Dodd is a co-author.
It would allow Yolo County to develop a secured treatment facility for individuals who are involved in the criminal justice system and who live with substance use disorders.
According to a release from the district attorney’s office, “Those eligible for the treatment program would include people who have committed drug motivated felonies that, absent this program, would result in them being sentenced to jail or prison. Those who commit misdemeanors, simple drug possession, sex offenses, and strike offenses would not be eligible. “
The release explained that those eligible would be “assessed by treatment providers who would decide the level and length of treatment.”
Those found suitable for the program “would be given a choice of serving time in jail or prison, or entering the soft secured facility where they would receive treatment to help them get well.”
All of this remains “contingent on the assessment and recommendation of the treatment providers. After completing the program, the subject current charges and prior drug convictions would be dismissed and expunged from their record so they can get a fresh start.”
Assemblymember Sharon Quirk- Silver said on the Assembly floor on Thursday, “Some of you may remember how I spoke about my brother Billy, someone who suffered from addiction, chronic alcoholism and many times would be in and out of jail. We intervened as many times as we could and yet he still died.”
According to the Assemblymember, “This program would give those who choose too, who choose to do it voluntarily, to participate in a pilot program as an alternative to jail or prison. We have far too many individuals from very young ages to older ages who suffer from addiction, whether its drugs or alcohol, and we do not treat them. I support this bill and ask you to support a pilot program in Yolo County, AB 1542, in honor of my brother Billy.”
Despite the overwhelming support on the Assembly floor, there has been strong opposition in the reform community.
Back in April, Tyler Rinde with the County Behavioral Health Directors Association of California, told an Assembly 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 that “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.”
The Human Rights Watch has also been a strong opponent.
In a letter to the Assembly, they wrote, “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.”
“Coerced treatment isn’t proven to be better than voluntary treatment, it doesn’t have better outcomes to threaten people with incarceration or force them into a locked facility,” said Glenn Backes, a social worker and Public Policy Researcher with Drug Policy Alliance told the Vanguard in March.
He also noted that the cost of such a program is much higher than a comparable voluntary program, and he argues we have not invested in an adequate voluntary treatment.
“It is much more cost-effective to invest to create the treatment opportunities, housing opportunities in the community to get people off the streets and to reduce their drug use rather than to threaten to put someone in jail if they don’t do this,” he said. “To put someone in jail is not cost-effective and it’s not science-based.”
Community treatment in Yolo County and in California is up, he said, as we have invested money saved from reduced incarceration into voluntary treatment—the problem, he said, is that we lack enough facilities right now to handle that voluntary treatment.
The sole opponent, however, was Republican Heath Flora from Stanislaus.
At a Yolo County Board of Supervisors meeting, former Yolo County Office of Education Superintendent Jesse Ortiz, said, “Hope Yolo will give people a choice to help themselves and families. When individuals successfully complete the program, they will have their criminal records expunged which will lead to opportunities to reliable employment. The model being used has proven to work and will benefit the total community.”
McCarty stated, “I’m pleased that 65 of my Assembly colleagues share my belief that Hope Yolo will help many people get well, become productive members of society, and stay out of the criminal justice system.”
The bill next moves to the Senate.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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