Why I Voted Against California’s Prop. 47

Last year, Californians were asked to approve Prop. 47, which made misdemeanors of several felonies.

The idea was to send fewer people to prison and a majority of Californians voters approved it. I wasn’t one of them.

I voted against Prop. 47 for exactly the reason mentioned in a recent op-ed piece in the LA Times: that addicts frequently need the threat of jail or prison to get their minds around the idea of entering rehab.

The threat of prison was, in other words, a rock bottom from which some could achieve recovery.

cropped-IMG_0910.jpgThis comes from interviews with many recovering addicts whose lives were saved by being arrested, by going to jail and facing prison time.

The idea that government or society should play no role in pushing addicts into recovery is foolish, dangerous, too. It does no one any good to remove that threat.

But that’s what Prop. 47 does, to the detriment of folks addicted to drugs, I believe.

The op-ed makes the point that it’s leading to an increase in crime. That may be true. But from my standpoint, having written Dreamland, and seeing widespread addiction to pain pills and now heroin across America, it is the former reasoning that makes most sense, particularly given how horrifying difficult it is for so many to kick their habits.

Prop. 47 couldn’t have come at a worse time. Addicts need any kind of impetus they can get. Unfortunately, for many in California, it no longer exists.

1 Comment

Filed under California, Drugs, The Heroin Heartland, Writing

One Response to Why I Voted Against California’s Prop. 47

  1. samquinones

    I’ve heard you a bunch on various podcasts and have read your stuff and like it a lot. But I think you’re way off base here. No doubt many recovering addicts got their lives clean because of prison. Plenty of others did so because they had loved ones they were pissing off, or losing their homes, or their friends, or their jobs, etc… Imagine a policy where they catch you with drugs and they take your house away. Maybe we should do that?

    I’m a public defender in California, and I talk to far more addicts who are not in recovery, or have been in recovery and have failed. And the threat of prison does not stop them from using drugs, something deep inside may do that, but for these people, prison have not worked. And it’s a huge number of people.

    For whatever you may like or hate about Prop 47, it doesn’t remove the threat of jail, it removes the threat of a prison sentence and a felony conviction, and however many recovering addicts you’ve spoken to who’ve done it because of the threat of prison, I can point to dozens more who’ve never been able to make it due to a history of serving time in prison and having felony convictions. But jail still looms as a possibility for these addicts, just not prison. Are you suggesting that we just don’t have ENOUGH jail hanging over their heads? Maybe we should’ve raised the sentences? We recently ended the possibility of life sentences for people who possess drugs (under Prop 36). Maybe rather than that we should’ve expanded it and given more people life sentences for simple possession. I can guarantee you that you’d have some number of people greater than before who’d be scared straight. You’d also have an even more astronomical number of people serving life in prison alongside with murderers and other violent felons taking up space, ruining their lives and bankrupting our finances and our morality.

    Or maybe we could go with the death penalty for possession of drugs. That would scare even more people into not using it.

    I don’t mean to lapse into hyperbole here, but talking to recovering addicts who’ve been scared straight is only one part of the population, and a small one. There are plenty of others who have not been scared straight by serious prison time for using drugs, do we just put them away forever?

    Ultimately, we have a morality question here. Do we punish personal lapses for people who have not harmed others directly and physically by destroying their own minds and bodies with drugs with more and more jail time? Do we continue to lump drug users and addicts with serious and violent criminals so that they can learn to be a worse criminal in prison? Do we make the punishments ever increasing, filling our prisons with more and more people until we spend 3 or 4 times as much money on prisons as we do on the University of California and California State Universities? Or do we say that people have a bit of personal responsibility getting clean and they can’t depend on a prison sentence to do that. Commit a real crime, like stealing for your habit, or robbing, or killing, then you’ll go to prison. But harm yourself with drugs and society will help you out, but we will not shoot ourselves in the foot putting you away with the hardcore criminal in our society and create an other super-class of criminals.

    Remember, despite what I’d prefer, drug possession is still a crime and one can go to jail for a year for it. Why is that not punishment enough? Do they really need to go to jail for 3 years, 10 years? Life? Really?

    Greg Apt

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