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Despite Overcrowding, California Might Jail More Drug Offenders

Just two weeks after federal judges ordered California to reduce its prison population, an arm of the Schwarzenegger administration will vote on increased funding to police anti-drug units, which could put even more drug offenders in jail.

Eric Bailey of the Los Angeles Times reports that an advisory board for the California Emergency Management Agency is expected to decide whether to channel $33 million in federal money to narcotics task forces around the state. These task forces have proven to be very adept at apprehending drug offenders.

Critics of government drug policies say that the money should go to drug-treatment programs, whose funding has suffered as a result of California's budget crisis.

"While one side of the government is addressing prison overcrowding, another side seems to be acting directly counter to that goal," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director of the nonprofit Drug Policy Alliance.

Most of the money would help multi-jurisdictional task forces in all 58 California counties that investigate and apprehend drug offenders. Money also would go to marijuana-suppression efforts around the state and the California Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement, which coordinates with federal agents on border drug trafficking.

John Lovell, a spokesman for the California Narcotics Officers' Association, called the Drug Policy Alliance opposition "predictable" but wrong at a time when Mexican drug cartels are boosting methamphetamine production and operating marijuana plantations in state forests, including the one blamed for starting a wildfire in Santa Barbara County on August 8th.

Dooley-Sammuli believes the bulk of the money would go toward generating more arrests of street-level offenders, not on cracking down on high-level drug criminals. "We're not getting the best bang for our buck," she said.

The state's anti-drug-abuse enforcement program could have its funding boosted substantially over last year, in part because of nearly $20 million in federal stimulus money allocated in July.

The Drug Policy Alliance estimates that the increase could yield 13,000 arrests during the coming year, resulting in prison time for nearly a quarter of those apprehended, at a cost of $160 million. Funding for drug treatment programs was slashed roughly in half from $120 million two years ago.

This month, a three-judge panel ordered the state to shrink its prison population by more than 40,000 in the next two years. Last month, legislators approved a $1.2-billion reduction in prison spending.

Posted on August 18th, 2009
Posted in Drug Policy

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