On Saturday, California Counties Will Gain Authority to End Incarceration for Drug Possession

Press Release September 28, 2011
Media Contact

Theshia Naidoo 510-229-5214 or Margaret Dooley-Sammuli 213-291-4190</p>

SACRAMENTO – As of Saturday, when Assembly Bill 109 (called "Realignment") takes effect, most people convicted of drug possession in California will no longer be sent to state prison but will be kept under supervision in their home county. AB 109 gives counties increased flexibility in responding to low-level offenses like personal drug possession, including innovative alternatives to conviction and incarceration. Advocates call on counties to use this new authority to end incarceration for drug possession and relapse, and to implement health-centered drug policies instead.

"It's encouraging that the state is getting out of the business of locking people up for personal drug possession. But it would be devastating if counties use their new power to simply repeat the state's failed lock-‘em-up approach. From October 1st, counties have the authority to do much, much better," said Theshia Naidoo, staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance. "Instead of jailing people who use drugs, counties should maintain them in their communities and employ evidence-based practices that would increase public safety rather than further deplete already scarce local funds."

"We ask that local authorities create clear policies committed to alternatives to conviction and incarceration for people arrested for drug possession and to ensure access to treatment for those who want and need it," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director in Southern California for the Drug Policy Alliance. "These policies should be honest about drug use. If it's non-problematic, then don't waste treatment dollars on this person. Find another solution, such as community service."

Advocates emphasize that counties should not just consider alternatives to incarceration, but also alternatives to conviction, in order to avoid the life-long barriers associated with a criminal record.

"People with a conviction on their record can face significantly diminished employment opportunities and much lower lifetime earnings. They may also be prohibited from accessing student loans, food stamps and other public assistance. This works against individual, family and community wellbeing and public safety," added Dooley-Sammuli.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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