SB County Prison Industrial Complex Perverts Prop 36


In a blistering report on the county's plan to implement Proposition 36, a national drug policy foundation on Wednesday said the county is bolstering the criminal justice system instead of emphasizing drug treatment.

The Lindesmith Center, which backed the measure that mandates treatment over incarceration as an alternative to the nation's war on drugs, gave San Bernardino County its lowest grade: F.

The New York-based center criticized the county's budget for drug treatment, its lack of treatment services and its failure to have meetings to garner public reaction.

"San Bernardino County has ignored the will of the voters," the report said. "It has an implementation plan that is likely to fail."

Founded by billionaire financier George Soros, a major sponsor of theProposition 36 initiative, the Lindesmith Center evaluated plans submitted byCalifornia's 11 largest counties to the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs.

County officials on Wednesday defended their preparation to implement Proposition 36, which takes effect Sunday.

The center's findings angered Bob Hillis, deputy director of the county Office of Alcohol and Drug Programs.

"I really think it's done our county a disservice," he said. "I don't think Lindesmith has a clue what's happened here in this county."

The county proposal calls for a probation officer to be the first to evaluate drug offenders after they are sentenced by a judge. That goes against the goal of Proposition 36, said Whitney Taylor, the Lindesmith Center's statewide implementation director.

"That's like going to a lawyer if your kidney hurts," she said.

Probation is part of drug treatment, said Dave Oberhelman, director of adult services for the county Probation Department.

"We are not something outside of that treatment circle," he said. "It's unfair to give us an F. We're one of the pioneers of drug court programs."

Taylor said the county could have quality programs but the plan she reviewed was vague, confusing and poorly written. She said it didn't mention detoxification services, although it "kind of alluded to it."

"They mentioned intervention," Taylor said, "but it was too vague."

Hillis said the plan was intentionally written that way, in a general nature so the county would have more control of and flexibility in dealing with cases, and not be "pinned down by the state."

San Bernardino County received the lowest rating among the 11 counties evaluated by Lindesmith. Riverside County received an overall grade of C, while San Francisco earned an A, the highest.

Lindesmith's criticism isn't the first directed at the San Bernardino County program.

San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Patrick Morris, who declined to comment on the center's report Wednesday, complained at a May 22 meeting of the county Board of Supervisors that the plan wouldn't be effective in treating drug offenders.

He cited reasons such as a lack of both training for judges and an emphasis on treatment.

"I'm concerned about what our plan does not say," Morris told the board last month. "It fails to specify how we're going to treat this population."

Assistant District Attorney Jim Hackleman said the county will be successful, despite the center's findings.

"With no disrespect to the Lindesmith Center, I would far rather be judged on what we do and what we accomplish locally," he said. "If this was simply a sham and we weren't providing treatment, this would be a great waste of time for everyone."

Hackleman said the District Attorney's Office isn't going to change its guidelines on how drug offenders will be charged, an area of which Lindesmith was particularly critical.

San Bernardino County Assistant Presiding Judge J. Michael Welch said the Lindesmith Center's report card is unfair in comparing San Bernardino and San Francisco counties because the two are so different.

San Francisco is "a city and county where the infrastructure is already there to provide treatment," he said. "Everything is in a central location, and they have probation officers. They got an A because they can afford to take 90 percent of their money and put it into treatment. San Bernardino ( County ) can't do that."

Interim County Administrator John Michaelson said the center's report incorrectly lists a $5.4million budget for Proposition 36 implementation here. He said the county's budget for all services is $11.4 million.

Michaelson, however, said the county should have started to prepare for Proposition 36 earlier but was sidetracked by other matters, including corruption scandals.