When we treat mental illness and substance abuse as criminal offenses, our communities experience unintended consequences. People with mental illness and substance abuse issues do indeed break the law. Fearing them, we spend enormous amounts of money maintaining and staffing jails and prisons and building new ones. Although the cost of incarceration exceeds the cost of treatment, including education and rehab programs; the latter programs actually decrease recidivism.
The state Assembly Bill 109, Public Safety Realignment, was signed in 2011 and implemented quickly. A federal court ordered, and the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed, that California drastically decrease the number of prisoners in state prisons. Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature not only punted the overcrowding problem to the counties but also, in AB109, took the opportunity to increase rehabilitation programs for nonsexual, nonviolent, and nonserious offenders. The passage of Prop 47, which offers a reduced sentence for many of the same offenders, increases demand for rehab programs.
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