Margaret Dooley at (858) 336-3685 or Veronica Kelley at (213) 236-9389
LOS ANGELES, February 9 – At today’s City Council meeting, concerned city residents and people working on drug and poverty issues called on city leadership to end law enforcement’s harassment of skid row residents. Advocates criticized the move to arrest homeless and drug-addicted people there, given skid row’s lack of treatment facilities, and condemned arrest practices that further exclude this population from accessing treatment.
Cheryl Branch, a treatment provider and chairperson for the African American Alcohol and Other Drug Council of Los Angeles County (AAAOD), said, “The continuing crack-down on nonviolent drug offenders on skid row is unacceptable. Rather than cycling people through the system, we must address residents’ underlying substance abuse and mental health issues. That takes a public health approach, not a criminal justice one.”
In recent weeks, community members and media have raised questions about arrest practices on skid row. Skid row residents are, according to defense attorneys, being increasingly charged with drug sales rather than possession, making them ineligible for diversion to drug treatment. Proposition 36, which was approved by 65 percent of Los Angeles voters in 2000, permanently changed the law to allow nonviolent, low-level drug possession (not sales) offenders the opportunity to receive substance abuse treatment and probation rather than incarceration.
Margaret Dooley, Prop. 36 outreach coordinator for the Drug Policy Alliance, said, “Los Angeles may be following the letter of the law on skid row, but not the spirit. Selectively arresting people for sales rather than possession further marginalizes this already underserved, high-risk group. This is both unethical and a serious public health failure.”
Gregory Senegal from SSG’s Homeless Outreach Program/Integrated Care System, said, “Criminalizing skid row residents further strains our courts, jails and prisons and ends up doing more harm than good. As service providers, we would welcome the opportunity to advise the city on positive, public health solutions to the problems of people living on skid row.”