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California Municipalities Move Towards Treatment-Based Drug Courts


June 1993

Major California municipalities appear to be moving away from the most punitive aspects of the drug war and towards a treatment- and prevention-oriented model, based on a number of recent news accounts (Rachel Gordon, "Mayors, Police Chiefs Say War On Drugs Failed: Bay Area Big-City Officials Unite In Seeking New Strategy Stressing Prevention, Not Jail," San Francisco Examiner, 5/11/93, A2; Marc Sandalow, "Bay Cities Say Drug War Failed: S.F., San Jose, and Oakland Want New Emphasis On Prevention," San Francisco Chronicle, 5/11/93, A1; Somini Sengupta, "County Drug Policy Shift Weighed: Courts: Some Officials Consider A Plan To Offer Nonviolent Offenders Treatment Instead Of Jail. Incarceration Is Seen As Inefficient And Too Costly," Los Angeles Times, 5/17/93, A1; Barbara Murphy, "New Court May Focus On Criminal Drug Abuse: Justice: Prosecutors And Defense Attorneys Agree The Present System Of Dealing With Cases Has Proven To Be A Failure," Los Angeles Times, 5/23/93, B1).

The most dramatic shift came from mayors and police chiefs in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose, who signed a declaration declaring the drug war a failure and urging a new approach. Within two weeks of that declaration, law enforcement and judicial authorities from both Los Angeles and Ventura counties announced that the current, punitive approach to drug abuse was ineffectual and that they were considering use of specialized drug courts similar to the one spearheaded by Attorney General Janet Reno when she was State Attorney for Dade County, Fla. and since employed in other municipalities, including Alameda County, Calif.

The Dade County drug court gives nonviolent drug offenders an opportunity to go through treatment rather than prison. It has proven highly successful, saving money both by reducing recidivism and avoiding the high cost of imprisonment.