California Did WHAT to Drug-Related Crimes?
This past Tuesday marked the biennial routine of Election Day, when U.S. citizens go to the ballot box and cast their votes on public policy.
By and large, most people don’t vote unless the issues are important to them. However, the past few Election Days have seen huge turnouts due to an issue that many people do care about – U.S. drug policy.
Here in Florida, the issue at hand was the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes. The ballot initiative, Amendment 2, just barely missed the needed 60% of votes to get passed.
Over 2,700 miles from our sunny state, there was another important facet of drug policy. California’s Proposition 47 sought to reclassify a series of non-violent crimes, downgrading them from felonies to misdemeanors. The crimes include shoplifting, fraud and, most notably, drug use. What’s more, the ballot measure was approved.
Prop 47: Making Drugs Legal?
Prop 47’s success signals a massive shift in our understanding of how to treat, not criminalize, addiction.
Nothing could be more true. California has become a particular breeding ground for inmates, both violent and non-violent. While it’s certainly possible that every single punishment fits the crime, the facts suggest otherwise. In just over forty years, California’s prison population grew at more than 100x the rate of its residential population. Logically, this makes little sense. How could a state have more new criminals than new residents?
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What Prop 47 REALLY Does
The rationale of Prop 47 is simple – decrease the prison population. There are both practical and moral dimensions behind this reasoning.
Practically, it simply doesn’t make sense to have such a massive prison population. Feeding, clothing and supervising that many inmates costs time and money. Prison guards need to be trained and equipped, appeals need to be processed, etc. For a state that’s $500 billion in debt, this hardly seems an efficient use of public resources.
The moral reasoning, though, is even more important. Prop 47 doesn’t only deal with drug offenders. As people who’ve dedicated our livelihoods to overcoming addiction, this issue is extremely important to us.
In California, and across the nation, people are being jailed for non-violent drug crimes. Many, if not most of them, have serious substance abuse problems that go unattended in prison.
This isn’t even taking into account the appalling racial disparity in drug crimes is. To take just one small example, a study by the Sentencing Project found that 98% of crack-related convictions were ethnic minorities.
Crack cocaine differs very little from the powder form, used predominantly by whites. Yet, crack can carry a conviction of jail time almost twice that of powder cocaine.
Why Prop 47 Permanently Changes U.S. Drug Policy
Putting politics aside for a moment, let’s try to appreciate what Prop 47 can do and why it’s important.
It’s not about letting criminals “off the hook.” It’s not about excusing bad behavior, and it’s not even just about saving California taxpayers money. It’s about helping those that need help, which prison clearly doesn’t do.
The new law would be meaningless if it simply released non-violent criminals back into the world. Fortunately, that’s not what it will do. It will replace prison with a more effective solution, as the law’s text states:
“Net state criminal justice system savings that could reach the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually. These savings would be spent on school truancy and dropout prevention, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and victim services.”
Currently, plans are in place to do exactly that – divert money and resources to schools, social services, and addiction treatment centers. It’s in these places that our most pressing issues can be solved. These are the places where drug addiction can be prevented, treated, and recovered from. In short, these are the services that will allow us to heal our social problems rather than bandage them.
Written by: Ryan Miller, recovering addict located in Delray Beach, Florida. He writes for Drug Treatment Center Finder and Recovery Hub.