Madison Ruppert, Contributor
Mayor Ed Lee of San Francisco has given the green light to a plan which could allow chronic drunks to be sentenced to locked treatment for up to a whopping six months, according to a recent report.
Mayor Lee claims that the current approach taken by police of simply releasing drunks once they’ve sobered up is not working since they just revert to their old ways immediately after.
“We’ve done pretty well at getting some of these individuals to a point where they clean up a little bit – but when you leave them alone, they go right back to their old ways,” Lee said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
The new plan being developed by the police, city courts and the Public Health Department could allow for chronic drunks to be held in contempt of court for repeatedly missing court dates with a penalty of five days for each missed appearance.
While this doesn’t sound all that bad, the problem is that the contempt citations are handled by a judge without any trial whatsoever. Defendants reportedly still have the right to an attorney, but one must wonder how effective that would be without any semblance of a trial.
The courts seem to like the sound of this plan, even though the Chronicle points out, “Considering that some street drunks have missed 20 or more court dates, rolling the citations into one could result in a hefty piece of time.”
The notion of forcing someone into a treatment program they have repeatedly refused to take part in and thinking that any meaningful change will be brought about is, in my opinion, just plain silly.
“If somebody has 20 warrants, you can pretty much guarantee that someone from the health department has offered them some type of help 20 times as well,” said Katherine Feinstein, the presiding judge of the San Francisco Superior Court.
Those who are sentenced would first be sent to San Francisco General Hospital which, according to Barbara Garcia, the head of the Public Health Department, is absolutely necessary. “These guys may look tough, but they are medically fragile,” said Garcia.
After they are cleared by the hospital, they would be spent to a specialized wing of the city’s jail for a treatment program to be administered by workers with the Public Health Department.
Garcia apparently sees absolutely no problem with locking people up and forcibly treating them. “Thirty days wouldn’t hurt,” Garcia said. “Once people have been sober that long, they look pretty good and can maybe start to get a handle on their lives.”
According to Garcia, a pilot program could be ready to be implemented quite soon, within 30 days in fact.
However, those who would actually have to represent many of the people who would face these mandatory treatment sentences, including Jeff Adachi, a public defender, don’t seem too excited about it.
Adachi pointed out that the targeting of drunks might actually amount to “selective enforcement” and he also questioned if the criminal procedure was even appropriate for dealing with people who suffer from what “I think everyone agrees is a disease.”
Regardless of what you think of alcoholism, this is a matter of setting a dangerous precedent which could then be applied to other people with various issues.
Adachi also raised the issue of jails being unable to even handle a rehabilitation program of this magnitude. With the California budget strained to the point of absurdity and jails constantly overcrowded throughout the state, I think Adachi might have a point.
Mayor Lee clearly disagreed in saying, “This has been a long time coming. There are 68 people on the streets that have cost us tens of millions of dollars going in and out of the hospitals, courts and jail.”
“I know who they are, too,” said Lee. “I spent six years at the Department of Public Works cleaning up after them.”
However, it is unclear how the costs associated with such a program would actually end up costing the city less money. In the Chronicle article, no official even attempted to outline or justify the costs involved.
It will be interesting to see if this plan is rolled out, how it is implemented and how they will justify the costs associated with it. Unfortunately, while this might have good intentions behind it, I just see it setting a quite dangerous and troubling precedent.
This article first appeared at End the Lie.