On April 29 The Californian published an editorial entitled "Prison reforms require smart choices." No thinking person could disagree with the title; however, the proposed legislation is not the solution.
Senate Bill SB 1506 is being carried by Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco. According to its author, the goal of the bill is to save millions of dollars of public funds by not punishing people who possess cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine, among others, with felony prosecution.
Although I completely support the goal of preserving public funds, I don't believe that reducing the penalties for serious crimes in the name of cost savings is wise.
Addictive drugs, which are the subject of SB 1506, are dangerous to the users and dangerous to society. There is a strong link between drug abuse and theft-related offenses. In California property crimes make up 78 percent of all reported crimes.
Minimizing the consequences of addictive and destructive behavior does not make it less addictive or less destructive.
It is also important to recognize under existing law, drug possessors are already given multiple opportunities at rehabilitation before being subject to a prison commitment. Penal Code section 1000 currently provides persons arrested for possessing drugs a rehabilitation opportunity as an alternative to prosecution.
Under Proposition 36, passed by the voters in 2000, drug possessors are given an additional three rehabilitation opportunities before being subject to incarceration. Only persons who fail to comply with the program requirements of both PC 1000 and Proposition 36 are subject to further prosecution.
There is virtually no disagreement that the Proposition 36 program has been a failure. A study published by UCLA in 2008 showed Proposition 36 to have a failure rate of 70 percent.
When examining any legislation it is important to understand the consequences, whether they be intended or unintended.
SB 1506 does not decriminalize cocaine, heroin, or methamphetamine possession. Rather, it reduces the penalty for possession of these dangerous drugs to a misdemeanor.
Although SB 1506 was intended to save money by reducing the prison population (paid for by the state), it would have the consequence of increasing the county jail population (paid for by the residents of Kern County).
The intention of transferring the costs of incarceration from the state to Kern County may make sense for a legislator from San Francisco but it shouldn't be acceptable to the taxpayers of Bakersfield.
SB 1506 also ignores the effects of Prison Realignment (AB 109) which was proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown and implemented by the legislature last year. Under realignment, drug possession is considered a non-violent felony.
As such, convicted felons are already sentenced to local jail as opposed to state prison. Under SB 1506, persons convicted of possessing dangerous drugs would never see the inside of a jail cell and would be released into the community with virtually no punishment whatsoever.
Although the senator from San Francisco's bill is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, the California Public Defenders Association, and other like-minded groups, it is simply not good policy to attempt to save money at the risk of public safety.
I am joined by the California District Attorneys' Association, the California Narcotics Officers' Association, the California Police Chiefs' Association, and the California Sheriffs' Association in opposing SB 1506.
Lisa Green is the District Attorney of Kern County.