SF Public Defender’s Office Condemns Supervisor’s Plan to Re-Allocate Funding to Ineffective, Traumatizing Jail-Based Drug Treatment

SF Public Defender Mano Raju protesting jail conditions in September

By the Vanguard

San Francisco, CA – In response to a suggestion by San Francisco Supervisor Matt Dorsey to re-allocate $18.9 million in city funds earmarked for Wellness Hubs to jail-based services for individuals arrested in sweeps for public intoxication, Elected Public Defender Mano Raju issued a strong rebuke.

“The city’s latest program of arresting and detaining individuals for public drug intoxication has been an utter failure by all accounts, and calling for increased funding of this cruel program defies all logic,” said Raju in a statement on Tuesday.  “These sweeps ignore evidence-based solutions to our city’s public health crisis and have not been successful in connecting people who have been arrested to treatment.”

While the coordinated law enforcement sweeps have arrested and detained 191 individuals since late May, Raju pointed out, “Many of these individuals are detained for a day or less, and are forced to suffer from withdrawal in a cage and often in lockdown conditions.”

The result he said: “It is not surprising that many do not accept treatment, if any is offered, in these deplorable conditions and in this state of mind.”

Raju added, “Even if they were to receive treatment, studies have shown that forced treatment can have negative effects. These individuals are then released back to the streets without supportive housing, where they are at a greater risk of overdose.”

Raju said he believes these sweeps “are politically motivated” and likened them to “war-on-drugs” tactics which “amount to state-sponsored harassment of vulnerable individuals.”

Drug policy experts and decades of research have demonstrated that drug prosecutions are ineffective and harmful.

“These detentions are more concerned with sweeping people struggling with substance use disorder temporarily out of sight than with helping them get well,” Raju said.  “Over the last year, the overdose crisis has only worsened, and these renewed arrests for public intoxication are only putting people struggling with substance use disorder more at risk.”

The Public Defender noted that this is a continuation of the last 50 years where the War on Drugs has targeted and criminalized the poor and communities of color.

He explained, “This law enforcement approach has fueled mass incarceration and drained public resources away from evidence-based public health solutions. It has squandered one trillion dollars nationally and millions in San Francisco.”

As a result he said, “The millions of dollars the city is pouring into the ineffective and harmful policing and prosecution of drug-related crimes would have a better return on investment if they were being used on Wellness Hubs, treatment on demand, overdose prevention centers, housing, and employment training.”

Instead, Raju argued, “If the city is serious about reducing overdoses and saving lives, our resources should be invested in evidence-based public health solutions, and not in causing more harm and suffering to vulnerable communities.”

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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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