Opio Sokoni at (202) 491-7147
Supporters of Measure 62, the “treatment instead of jail” initiative which received 78% of the vote in the November election, lost a decision handed down by DC Superior Court Judge Jeanette Clark. The case was heard on Friday, January 10th. Supporters had hoped Judge Clark would extend their string of legal and legislative victories in the District by ruling that Measure 62 was a proper subject for an initiative. Mayor Anthony Williams filed suit on the grounds that the Measure impermissibly requires the District to allocate and expend funds. In a previous ruling against the Mayor, Judge Clark had declined to issue an injunction. Lawyers arguing for the measure are looking into an appeal of the decision.
Initiative supporters are concerned that Judge Clark’s ruling will make it much harder for citizens to propose any initiative since any proposed program has a budget impact. Initiative proponents expressed concern that Judge Clark did not address their central argument that Measure 62 does not allocate funds since it does not create a private right of action nor authorize money damages if an eligible offender is denied treatment. Measure 62’s only remedy is that non-violent eligible offenders cannot be incarcerated. Eligible offenders can be placed on parole and they can be drug tested. Supporters feel that this is well within the bounds of the home-rule charter and will strongly consider a potential appeal.
“We are disappointed at the court’s ruling and we still believe that the city has a chance to make a difference in the District’s addiction crisis. Seventy-eight percent of the voters wanted this measure implemented and the City Council can enact this legislation,” says Opio Sokoni, the implementation coordinator for the measure. “The mayor must also know that this is as much about addressing the incarceration crisis of non-violent, low-level DC residents as it is about finding treatment for those who need it,” he added.
The nation’s capital is in desperate need of Measure 62. For instance, the DC Mayor’s 2002 interagency report stated that 10% of the District’s population is addicted to some form of illicit drugs. Of the 60,000 needing treatment in the District, only 10,000 are receiving care. The report also disclosed that close to 70% of the children who are in the foster care system are there directly or indirectly due to drug abuse and addiction. The report further established that addiction costs the District $1.2 billion annually in crime, law enforcement, lost wages, emergency room visits, etc. A recent RAND study reported that every dollar spent on treatment is 7 dollars saved. The District is reportedly spending close to a half billion dollars on its addiction crisis. However, much of this money is being spent on the enforcement side with a miniscule amount being spent on actual treatment.
If implemented after an appeal, Measure 62 would require judges to allow eligible non-violent drug defendants to be placed in treatment for 12 months, instead of incarceration. “The only thing people learn in jail is to go back,” says Carmelita Witherspoon, widely known as DC’s “Mother of Recovery.” Other treatment instead of jail measures have been passed in California and Arizona, saving taxpayers millions of dollars and significantly decreasing the states’ prison population.
Supporters also noted that recent media reports have shown that states are beginning to review their laws which lock up nonviolent, low level drug offenders. “We are thinking about an appeal,” said Bill McColl, President of the DC Campaign for Treatment. “District voters have made their wish known and we are going to keep our faith with them.”