Prop 5: California Has a Chance to Treat Young People Struggling with Drug Problems the Right Way

The NORA initiative would invest $65 million annually into developingdrug treatment programs for at-risk California youth under 18.
California's policies have failed our youth. The state currently offers almost no help to young people struggling with drug problems. Without early intervention, too many get tied up in the juvenile justice system only to graduate to the adult criminal justice system. Next week California voters have the rare opportunity to support a measure that would simultaneously transform youth treatment, reduce adult prison overcrowding and significantly cut costs to taxpayers.

Prop. 5, the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act, invests $65 million per year into developing the first system of drug treatment programs for at-risk California youth under 18. No such system exists now, leaving all but the wealthiest families to navigate through the turbulence of adolescent drug abuse on their own. Low-income youths are generally first arrested and processed into the juvenile justice system before receiving any form of treatment; even then, programs are inadequate. According to the California Legislative Analyst's Office, only 10 percent of youth who needed treatment actually receive it. Prop. 5 proposes building a system of preventative, on-demand treatment for all of California's youth.

The potential rewards are clear. Untreated drug problems can have lasting impacts far beyond the adolescent years. Investing in treatment and support services is essential to empowering youth to become productive citizens. Under Prop. 5, parents, teachers and doctors could all refer young people directly to these life-saving health services without the need for a criminal justice intervention. Research shows that adolescent treatment is effective in reducing arrests, improving academic performance and keeping youth in school.

Prop. 5 ensures that the new system of care meets the full spectrum of youth needs, including family therapy, educational and employment stipends and more. These services seek to address the roots of the problem, and not just the symptoms. Prop. 5 also provides smarter interventions for young people. Young people found in possession of small amounts of marijuana would be required to complete science-based educational programs and counseling instead of being handed a misdemeanor conviction that can severely limit their potential. Prop. 5 is institutional reform. It starts by establishing an early intervention system to save lives and stop crimes before they happen. Going further, Prop. 5 expands access to court-supervised treatment and increases accountability for offenders in those programs. It puts rehabilitation back in our prisons. Meanwhile, it improves public safety by increasing parole supervision of serious and violent offenders.

These smart reforms will significantly cut costs to taxpayers -- something no other measure on the November ballot can promise or attain. According to the independent Legislative Analyst's Office, Prop. 5 will reduce incarceration costs by $1 billion each year and prison construction costs by $2.5 billion over its first several years.

The League of Women Voters of California, California Nurses Association, California Federation of Teachers, Consumer Federation of California, California State Conference of the NAACP and National Council of La Raza all agree: A "yes" on Prop. 5 is a "yes" to our young people's futures.

AlterNet is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed by its writers are their own.
Marsha Rosenbaum, PhD, directs the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance. She is the author of Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens, Drugs and Drug Education.
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Election 2018