By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The savvy that went into writing Prop. 36 was reflected in its funding mechanism, which called for spending $120 million a year for five years. When the state’s budget deficit ballooned this year, Governor Gray Davis could not slash Prop. 36’s funding, as he did for most other state drug programs.
Opposition to Prop. 36 in 2000 was wide. Davis, Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Senator Dianne Feinstein all condemned it, as did nine out of 10 of the state’s largest newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times, and 57 of California’s 58 county sheriffs and district attorneys (San Francisco was the lone exception). The state’s largest political donor, the prison guards’ union known as California Correctional Peace Officers Association — wanting to keep the maximum number of prisoners flowing in — gave $200,000 to the campaign against the law.
Dr. David Deitch — a drug-treatment pioneer and professor of psychology at the University of California, San Diego — says that conservatives feared Prop. 36 because it challenged ‘‘a serious, long-denied, re-examination of America’s drug policies, a discussion,” he says, “that’s never really been had. If we were fighting a true war, we’d gather up all available information, strategically fund what works and set out to win. Instead, we continue to feed the DEA and our local police money, while starving mental-health and drug-prevention and treatment programs.”
“Re-nannnnal-do! Graduating? I don’t believe it! Let me look you up,” says Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Stephen V. Manley, shuffling some papers on his bench.
I’m sitting in a small, packed downtown San Jose courtroom, listening to Manley — a tall, charismatic, 61-year-old man with thinning blond hair and a ruddy face dramatically set off by a black eye patch he wears over a long-ago-injured left eye. He’s speaking not only to Renaldo, but to a captive audience of drug-court defendants, whom he refers to as his clients.
I’d come to San Jose because this particular drug court has been around for almost a decade and is widely considered as the best model for Prop. 36. Manley’s court runs the way L.A. courts might if they were given enough money and support — and if local judges had enough courage and compassion.
“You don’t have a single violation of probation,” an avuncular, booming-voiced Manley tells Renaldo, as the thin, shy man, wrapped in a hooded yellow ä windbreaker, takes a seat behind a long wooden desk. “You’ve done everything I’ve asked . . . just look at these reports!’’
Off to Renaldo’s left are 16 shackled prisoners dressed in orange jump suits and seated in a sectioned-off area against the wall. To his rear sit the more than 50 clients already on probation, who, following Renaldo, will appear before Manley.
From Monday through Wednesday, the clientele is drawn from a wide spectrum of users, and tends to be whiter, more upscale and better educated — recreational users, accountants, college students, nurses and lawyers — many of whom, before their arrests, had been leading functional lives while quietly struggling with their habits, or had simply been caught short in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Today is Friday, a court day reserved mainly for those who’ve been diagnosed as both mentally ill and seriously addicted. Many come from families with histories of abuse, addiction and degradation, and are living lives of bad choices and perennial poverty — and look it: black women with dreadlocks and strained faces; battered Mexican men in their 50s with the resigned slump and blank eyes of those who know their lives are already over; pasty, bloated white women with mangled hair, rotting teeth and thigh-wide arms; a man who says he’s dying of hepatitis C, and wants to read a poem; and, over in the prisoners’ section, an anomaly on this day — an angelic-looking Vietnamese-American in long fairy-tale braids that make her appear 13, her eyes wide with the wonderment of a child, her wan smile so heartbreaking I can’t bear to look.
Renaldo, who is continuing to be effusively praised by Manley because he’s just completed his treatment program, is now allowing a slight grin to spread across his face as the judge continues . . .
“. . . All your reports are glowing . . . what a wonderful way to start the day . . .”
For almost a decade now, Manley, the supervising judge of all felony drug cases in San Jose as well as the judge in charge of enacting Prop. 36, has been a leader of California’s “Collaborative Justice [drug] Courts” — which began in Alameda County in the early ’90s. They slowly spread as thoughtful judges saw that the old system of catch, punish and release was a failing revolving door. In response, they turned to the rehabilitative approach of drug courts, which now number 146 in California and about 700 nationwide.
The assumption underlying drug courts is that deputy D.A.’s, public defenders, probation officers and drug-treatment professionals — working in unison and led by judges like Manley — can provide the resources, care and follow-up needed to help addicts kick their habits and fix their lives. Since 1989, according to the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, “over 100,000 offenders [nationwide] have participated in the drug court system, and 71 percent of those have either completed their program or are actively participating in one” — an extraordinarily high percentage for a treatment in which false starts and relapsing are, for many addicts, part of the process.