Friday, July 29, 2005 | Editor’s Note: Supervisor Cox sent this commentary to the San Diego media.
All California counties face the challenge of fighting crime and addressing its impacts. Criminal activity has a significant effect on how we carry out our responsibility to the citizens we serve in government. Fighting crime has no one solution. Oftentimes law enforcement and the traditional criminal justice system are simply not enough to stop repeat offenders. A real and effective approach to fighting crime involves a multifaceted and comprehensive effort across disciplines that targets the root cause of criminal activity.
In March of 2005 the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs released a report that shows Drug Court to be an effective means of keeping people clean, sober and law abiding. The report estimates that in a three-and-a-half-year period the felons who successfully completed the Drug Court program avoided more than 1 million prison days and saved the state over $42 million in prison costs. Successfully completing Drug Court also leads to successes in other areas of life including making regular child support payments, holding down a job, getting off the street, completing parenting classes, engaging in community service and most importantly, remaining drug free. The program has also led to a major reform by implementing the Drug Court model with Dependency Court; ordering substance abuse treatment for parents whose children have been removed for abuse or neglect. This model has resulted in an increase in the County’s ability to reunite healthy families and spare children from long periods of foster care. A collaborative effort that unites law enforcement, district attorneys, public defenders, probation officers, judges and treatment providers, Drug Court for adults and juvenile delinquents, and Dependency Court are working in San Diego County because of the many varied interests committed to their success.
Homeless Court has been an effective means of resolving a backlog of cases while significantly benefiting the homeless persons involved. The San Diego Association of Governments found that 96 percent of the cases in Homeless Court were resolved through creative alternative sentencing – swapping treatment for traditional sentences. In place of fines, which most of the homeless were unable to pay, community service and custody, the participants in Homeless Court were “sentenced” to job training, mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment. SANDAG also reported that fewer Homeless Court participants were arrested or cited, or had any contact with law enforcement 90 days after their hearing.
Both Drug Court and Homeless Court rely upon cross-governmental collaboration, not just within the public safety community, but also with the health and social services network. We in county government are often tasked with addressing issues that do not have a simple solution. The fact that county regional services encompass a great many functions of government is both a challenge and an opportunity to team together health and social services, law enforcement, prosecution and probation to address the root cause of criminal activity in a comprehensive way. Only by working together, with creativity and innovation, can we address the causes of criminal behavior, further enhancing our goal of ensuring public safety.