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
Prop. 36 was intended to make this approach universal instead of occasional.
Manley is encouraging, and his approach is simply unlike anything I’d ever seen in a courtroom. The weight of the state is always there in Manley’s courtroom, of course, ensuring that his clients will comply. “Coerced treatment,” in fact, is a crucial element of the drug-court system, as it is of Prop. 36. “We do coerce and hold people accountable,” Manley had told me earlier. “But it’s not adversarial. Judges are personally involved with each client [as part of a team], trying to get them clean and sober and to improve their lives in many other ways.
“Critics believe that coerced treatment is inappropriate, that people should get treatment when they’re ready and want it. But,” continued Manley, “I’m tired of waiting for people to get ready. There’s nothing that disturbs me more than taking a child from her mother right in the courtroom, and placing the mother — whose life is totally out of control — into [county jail] like I did recently. But that woman had seven felony convictions. But I’m not giving up on her, and we’re going to start over together . . .
“. . . And by the way, Re-nalll-do,” Manley concludes as he’s about to dismiss him, “don’t forget that we’re inviting you to come to our graduation on July 18, so we can celebrate together. Okay?”
Then Stephen Manley, not exactly teddy-bear material, walks down and around his bench, signals for Renaldo to stand up, meets him halfway, shakes his hand and gives him a hug.
Back in the courtroom of L.A. County Judge Haynes, this is John Washington’s make-or-break-it day. The big-bellied, broad-shouldered, 46-year-old ex-Marine is looking good today — especially compared to the guy who preceded him, who’d missed 20 of his 24 12-step scheduled appointments and severely riled the judge.
Standing there with Public Defender Nancy Chand at his side, Washington has what Judge Haynes describes as “a very good report,” and “at the discretion of your program,” she tells Washington, “you are transferred from level three to level one. Keep up the good work.” In other words, he isn’t going to jail.
Clean and sober now for the past seven months, Washington is a happy and grateful man, he says, when I talk to him after the hearing.
In 1987, after eight years in the Marine Corps, Washington was downsized out of the service. “I was going to make the Marines my career, but they told me I was ‘expendable.’ I can’t say it made me do the things that I did, but it took its toll.”
Ten years later, Washington was a homeless Skid Row crackhead “livin’ in a big ol’ dumpster — not exactly what you call clean. But, yeah, I went that low.” Washington always had a hustle — stealing wooden pallets and then selling them back to local truck yards, buying and dealing — anything to make a buck, until he was caught by the LAPD.
Without Prop. 36, as he tells it, he would have done at least one year in county jail for being in possession of those “birds” — those bundles filled with little rocks of crack cocaine that he tossed up in the air when that LAPD black-and-white spun around the corner and nailed him dead to rights.
Washington doesn’t know how lucky he really is. A year doing county time, in fact, would have been improbable. Probation was not even on the table. Not with a record that included burglary, grand theft, vandalism, assault and shoplifting.
“The Salvation Army program I’m in — over there at the Harbor Light shelter — is strict but good,” he says. “A lot of people don’t like it at first, they’re in denial and don’t like that discipline, don’t like authority figures.
“In the program you detox first, then you go to classes within a therapeutic community — as many classes as the court deems fit. I’m a vet, and Harbor Light helped me get my benefits from the Veterans Administration — which is helping me with my job preparation. They gave me a voucher to buy a suit, tie and shirt for job interviews and showed me how to use a computer. But they do all that at Harbor Light even if you’re not a vet.
“They’re training me to be a truck driver now,” he tells me, “right there in Skid Row, with winos and crackheads lyin’ out in front of the door. It reminds me that I can’t go back to that no more.”
Do stories like that of Washington prove that Proposition 36 is working? The answer for the moment is a qualified yes.
Drug courts all around the country have already proved their effectiveness, and Prop. 36, when properly administered, is nothing more than a vastly expanded, statewide drug-court system, although one dealing with many clients not as ready for treatment as those who have traditionally been assigned to drug courts.
Many studies over the past 20 years have shown that between 35 percent and 50 percent of people entering drug-treatment programs will graduate, a success rate comparable to that of programs for people with hypertension and diabetes.