Balancing Act: Providing Man Substance Abuse Treatment, and Ensuring Public Safety

By Alex Jimenez 

ALAMEDA, CA- Factoring in an accused’s long-standing criminal history of substance abuse, the courts have a balancing act—how to proceed in the interest of public safety while providing adequate support for those facing criminal charges. 

In Friday’s hearing regarding the possibility of pretrial release here in Alameda County Superior Court, it was apparent that both Judge Morris Jacobson in Dept. 13 and Deputy District Attorney Veronica Amaya Rios Reddick were frustrated with Kandia Lee’s continuing issue with alcoholism. 

Lee, 45, has been in and out of treatment programs—and in many cases in lieu of prison time, but has also served time in custody as well. 

“A lot of people have problems with alcohol addiction but they don’t commit crimes because he’s drunk, but he does and he commits dangerous ones,” said DDA Rios Reddick. 

Rios Reddick added, as a DA, the first inclination regarding addiction is to get people help. But given the numerous times Lee has walked out of programs and repeatedly committed the same types of crime, Rios Reddick believes the courts are wasting their time.  

Reddick appeared to be perplexed and searching for possible solutions as opposed to throwing in the towel, but the DDA’s frustration with the current situation was evident. 

Lastly Reddick suggested that, by holding Lee in custody, Santa Rita would be able to provide programs for Lee, but also indicated that it was wishful thinking. 

Defense attorney Michael Low Wu weighed in, bringing to light the trauma that Lee has gone through in his life and the challenges that he faces. Wu indicated that placing him in the proposed program that provides housing and intense supervision would be a more effective solution than placing him in jail. 

Wu also went on to say that, during the current pandemic, it would be unlikely that Santa Rita Jail would be able to provide the resources needed to combat addiction. Very much opposed to jail time, Wu suggested the courts look to similar solutions that it has resorted to in the past.  

Judge Jacobson appeared to be conflicted over the matter, taking into account the factors that Wu outlined and the clear issue to public safety that was presented.

Judge Jacobson outlined his concerns, particularly pointing out a 2019 case where Lee broke into a home and was confronted by a child, saying that the situation “was absolutely frightening,” although Lee would walk away without any violence. 

On the same day Lee would commit a similar crime, indicating to the judge an inclination in getting into people’s homes and stealing. 

“His history is just troubling to me,” said Judge Jacobson, and additionally Jacobson’s thought that the re-posted plan for reentry into the program sort of ignored the criminal conduct and the danger that he presents to people.

However, Jacobson did acknowledge the desire to get Lee into a “better place.” Regarding public safety and providing effective treatment, Jacobson is open to suspending time in custody if he enters into a program. 

The indication from the judge, however, is that entry into a program will not be a substitute for prison time, given Lee’s criminal conduct. 

“If he’s serious about wanting to make this change in his life I’m willing to give him that avenue but it’s not a walk away scot-free,” said Judge Jacobson regarding Lee’s extensive criminal history.

In the end, the judge never made a final decision, and granted both parties until Sept. 10 to come up with some sort of resolution that balances both aspects, criminality and getting Lee help. Lee will remain in custody until then.

About The Author

Koda is an incoming senior at UC Berkeley, majoring in Philosophy and minoring in Rhetoric. He is from Ventura, CA.

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