Last May, San Diego State made headlines when it was the center of a drug bust coordinated by the Drug Enforcement Agency. Police arrested dozens of students for possessing various drugs, such as marijuana, cocaine, ecstasy pills and more.
This November, SDSU students will have an opportunity to shape the system that detains suspected offenders, such as some of those arrested four months ago.
Proposition 5, called the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act (NORA), will be on the statewide ballot Nov. 4 and, if passed, will allow $460 million to be spent annually to improve and expand treatment programs for some who are convicted of drug and criminal offenses.
The proposition will limit court authority to imprison offenders who commit drug-related crimes, violate parole or break specific rules of their drug treatment program. Parole for those who have served time will also be shortened for certain drug offenses.
If it isn't passed, current laws and programs will stay in place -- which is where the debate comes into play. Will Proposition 5 make California's approach to the treatment and incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders more effective, or will it allow criminals to get away with breaking the law?
Several groups have spoken out on both sides of the issue.
The Drug Policy Alliance Network is one group in favor of the proposition. In fact, network spokesperson Margaret Dooley-Sammuli said the group authored the proposed legislation.
Dooley-Sammuli said the group developed the proposition in coalition with many other organizations and experts. She said Proposition 5 is based on decades-old recommendations made in a series of reports by treatment and prison reform policy experts.
"It's really addressing the part of the criminal justice system and the health system where addiction and nonviolent crimes meet," she said.
She added that untreated drug addiction and mental illness are driving many of the incarcerations of nonviolent offenders in California.
California has an overcrowded prison system that it can no longer afford, she said, along with a "disastrously underfunded" addiction treatment system.
Statistics from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation show that there are 170,973 inmates in California prisons and that 19.1 percent of them are in for drug-related offenses.
Some opposed to the proposition don't think those numbers are accurate.
Kevin Spillane, spokesman for the People Against the Proposition 5, said the amount of people said to be in prison for drug offenses is not true.
"Only 8 percent of people in prison are there for drugs," he said, adding that the problem is that the proposition will shorten some inmates' probation from three years to six months.
The proposal, he said, will even affect those charged with crimes involving hard drugs, such as methamphetamine and cocaine dealers.
Spillane said that people who use meth are responsible for violent crimes and that by decreasing the probation period, their chances of selling meth again will increase. He added that the wording of the Proposition 5 will allow people to commit crimes such as identity theft, arson, domestic violence and hate crimes without having to serve jail time.
"It's a get-out-of-jail-free card for them," said the spokesman, "where in treatment they can continue to use the drugs with no consequences."
He said that the proposition ignores the science of drug addiction.
"The Betty Ford Center would not qualify because they require to not keep using drugs."
He added that it's a waste of money that would steal funding from education, health care, local programs, transportation and human services.
Dooley-Sammuli said the proposition aims at the heart of the problem.
"Prop. 5 will create a system of care for young people -- that is people under the age of 18 -- who have drug problems. Currently in the state, there are no resources for them."
She added that passage of the proposition will not benefit drug dealers.
"What happened on SDSU's campus had a lot to do with distribution and sales," she said, "so those people would not really be helped here. We're talking about people with drug problems."
However, she said, it would help students who use drugs -- particularly younger ones.
"I think that will affect some people on the SDSU campus because if there are any people under the age of 18 who have drug problems, this will be an option for them in San Diego County."
Videos posted on www.noonproposition5.com/, the Web site for Spillane's group, show press conferences of several people advocating against the proposition.
One of those people was Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer, who is also the president of the California Police Chiefs Association.
In the video, Dyer said one reason the CPCA opposes the legislation is because it "will no doubt take the State of California backward and wreak havoc" on communities.
"One of Proposition 5's biggest deceptions," he said, "is that it's all about treatment, and that is simply not true."
Dyer added that Proposition 5 is an attempt to dramatically shorten parole time for convicted drug dealers, adding to comments made by Spillane.
"Prop 5 could provide, in effect, a get-out-of-jail free card to defendants ... simply by claiming that 'the drugs made me do it,'" Dyer said.
Dooley-Sammuli said that's not the case.
"All of this goes to getting at the root of the problem -- breaking the cycle of crime driven by addiction, reducing prison overcrowding and improving public safety," she said.
Currently, she added, the state treats nonviolent and violent offenders exactly the same.
"Once people have served their sentence," she said, "nonviolent offenders would (if the proposition passes) serve one year on parole. Currently, it's three years, the same as people who have committed serious and violent crimes. That's crazy."
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