No Prison for Gore III?

Al Gore III, the 24-year-old son of the former vice-president, is facing more than three years in prison for simple drug possession following his arrest in Southern California earlier this month. Is he going to get special treatment? I hope not.

I hope Gore receives exactly what most nonviolent, low-level drug offenders in California do -- a chance at treatment instead of a record. Proposition 36, passed by 61 percent of voters in 2000, offers community-based treatment instead of incarceration to over 36,000 people each year. The Orange County district attorney will determine Gore's eligibility for the program in the next couple of weeks.

It is a tragedy when anyone enters the criminal justice system -- rather than the healthcare system -- because of their drug use. That's why a majority of California voters approved Proposition 36, changing state law so that people can address their drug problems without adding the trauma and stigma of incarceration.

Over 36,000 people -- famous and not -- benefit from Proposition 36 each year. Robert Downey Jr. is a Proposition 36 graduate. So is Alec Baldwin's brother Daniel, who told Larry King just last week that Proposition 36 intervened in his 18-year cocaine addiction and allowed him to access the treatment he needed to enter long-term recovery. He is now taking it one day at a time.

His story is similar to that of Rudy Mendez, a not-so-famous resident of San Diego, who entered Proposition 36 to treat his long-term addiction to heroin. He's now been sober for five years. Cynthia McDonald, another not-famous Proposition 36 grad from Southern California, thanks the law for her recovery from years of addiction to methamphetamine. She has been sober for nearly four years.

Daniel Baldwin, Rudy Mendez, Cynthia McDonald and thousands more Proposition 36 grads are now spokespeople for recovery, working with others to spread the news that "Recovery Happens!" and that one way to get there is Proposition 36. The positive impact they have had on the lives around them prove that, while addiction is not contagious, recovery can be.

Gore's arrest and Baldwin's interview come just as the California Senate considers cutting funding for Proposition 36 treatment in exchange for hefty tax breaks for large corporations. Squeezing the budget of this life-saving and cost-effective program is a slap in the face of California voters, and, worse, a direct assault on the quality of treatment that the state can provide Proposition 36 participants next year, perhaps including Gore.

In just six years, over 70,000 Californians have graduated from Proposition 36 treatment, and taxpayers have saved $1.8 billion. Gore could be one of 12,000 more people expected to graduate next year. If so, perhaps he'll become another spokesperson for treatment and alternatives to incarceration -- and be able to explain to Sacramento politicians just how outrageous it is to starve a program that saves money, reduces jail and prison overcrowding, and improves the lives of tens of thousands of real people each year.

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