The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors debated this week whether a carrot or a stick is most effective in dealing with people repeatedly charged with misdemeanor drug offenses, while voting to spend $6.6 million on Proposition 47 outreach and services.
In the wake of Prop 47, which allows for certain felonies to be reclassified as misdemeanors, county task forces have focused on community outreach and education in an effort to ensure that those eligible take advantage of the opportunity for a fresh start.
Reclassification “dramatically improves their possibilities for employment, education and other parts of their lives,” one of the task force leaders told the board.
It’s a daunting task, as an estimated 818,742 convictions involving more than 513,000 residents may be eligible for reclassification.
County workers have also used Prop 47 as a way to talk to offenders about mental health and substance abuse treatment and offer housing assistance and job training. The proposition was premised on the idea that treatment of underlying root causes would do more to reduce crime than jail time.
However, many of those in need of substance abuse treatment fail to sign up or show up for available programs.
People say, “Look, I’m not going to take five months of my life and go into a drug treatment program,” said Dr. Mark Ghaly, the county’s deputy director for community health.
Ghaly said county health officials were working on a shorter course of residential treatment tied to supportive housing or a hybrid inpatient/outpatient program, but acknowledged that longer, inpatient programs are generally judged to be more effective.
However, “if we put out the gold standard but nobody goes, it doesn’t help us,” Ghaly told the board.
Supervisor Michael Antonovich said Prop 47 has left authorities without the ability to force offenders into treatment programs as a requirement of probation, resulting in more crime.
“We have seen a huge upsurge in property crime due to reclassification,” Antonovich said, citing more shoplifting and break-ins.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said data provided by the Sheriff’s Department did not suggest that Prop 47 contributes to crime.
As for recidivism, the department found that a small group of more than 400 people arrested on a Prop 47 charge during the 18 months after the measure passed had gone on to be arrested more than 10 times each.
Kuehl said a “huge majority” of re-arrests were for a second minor drug offense, which “argues much more for a public health and personal health solution, not a law enforcement solution.”
Antonovich countered that it was “irresponsible to have the same consequences … for someone who’s been re-arrested and re-arrested.”
Antonovich and Supervisor Hilda Solis recommended that the Sheriff’s Department, District Attorney, Public Defender, other county law enforcement agencies and the Office of Diversion and Re-Entry research means of breaking the cycle of low-level crime, including instituting probation for misdemeanor offenses.