A new approach to combating addiction in California deserves Gov. Newsom’s support | Opinion

As a state legislator and a lifelong Sacramentan, I see the challenges our communities are facing, and it’s clear to me that we need to be doing things differently. It’s time to think outside the box on issues of public safety and the underlying problems of drug addiction.

Most of us know someone suffering from addiction. Our current approach to dealing with substance use disorders is falling woefully short, especially for those in the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, many drug addicts commit crimes to support their habit — the recidivism rate for drug offenders is alarmingly high, with nearly 70% getting rearrested within just three years of leaving prison.

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Our criminal justice system has little to no treatment programs for people with substance use disorders. The few programs they do have are overwhelmed with long waiting lists. So, while the addiction crisis worsens, we rely on county jails and state prisons as the primary treatment providers. But this is nonsensical. We cannot expect individuals with substance use disorders to recover behind bars. Without proper treatment and accountability for those committing felony offenses due to addiction, these individuals (and their loved ones) serve life sentences on an installment plan.

What we need is more innovation with rehabilitation, not just incarceration.

To address the public health and humanitarian crises of addiction affecting our businesses and neighborhoods, we need a new approach. That’s why I have proposed the Hope California pilot program (Assembly Bill 1360) in Sacramento and Yolo Counties, with the support of Sacramento District Attorney Thien Ho and Yolo District Attorney Jeff Reisig, both of whom strongly believe in rehabilitation and reentry.

The proposed legislation is straightforward, bipartisan and spans five years in its pilot phase. It has moved through the Legislature and awaits Gov. Newsom’s signature. I hope he signs it.

Supported by the California State Association of Psychiatrists, the program offers individuals convicted of crimes due to a clear substance use disorder a choice: secured residential, medically informed treatment or jail time. The duration of optional treatment will always be shorter than the jail sentence.

For example, if an individual has multiple drug charges, a substance use disorder and felony convictions on their record, they could be eligible for this program. Let’s say a Sacramento resident committed a commercial burglary valued at over $2,000. If convicted of the crime with their history, the judge could sentence them to two years in county jail or up to a one-year-long medically-informed treatment program managed by addiction professionals. In addition, upon successful completion of treatment, their record would be expunged.

Each pilot county would provide additional treatment beds leveraging existing county funds. In addition, counties can look to the State Opioid Settlement Fund, and, if approved by the voters in March, the Behavioral Health Infrastructure Bond (AB 531) would raise more than $6 billion for secured and unsecured residential treatment.

Critics argue that such a program won’t work, or that it is “coercive,” but the status quo is not working. AB 1360 is a balanced and fair middle ground offering communities another option for battling drug addiction in our neighborhoods. Continuing to let addicted people suffer in jails and prisons without addressing the root causes of their addiction is a failed path. As elected leaders, we must employ all tools and pursue innovative approaches to address this addiction crisis.

In conjunction with other innovative and overdue measures like CARE Court, which gets Californians with severe mental health and substance use disorder crises off the streets and into housing, and SB 43 which empowers cities and counties to address gravely disabled homeless people more effectively, I am optimistic that Gov. Gavin Newsom will sign this common-sense, bipartisan bill.

It’s time to take a courageous step toward helping our neighbors suffering from addiction and, by doing so, create more compassionate communities.

California State Assemblyman Kevin McCarty represents Assembly District 6, spanning Sacramento, Antelope, Arden-Arcade, Carmichael and other communities of unincorporated Sacramento County.