A devil’s bargain

Helen Harberts is Assistant Butte County district attorney and former chief probation officer

The headlines read “gang violence,” young people die from Oxycontin overdoses, methamphetamine problems abound, and home invasion robberies occur all too frequently. Because of state budget problems, Butte County and its cities have made a two-year bargain with the state in exchange for some reduced budget cuts. It is a bargain with the devil. The state has only taken from us for years, and it does not give back.

Instead we are forced to cut back on staffing and service hours in our local governments. Proposals to reduce police presence and hours, reduce deputy district attorneys, reduce sheriff’s services, slash effective treatment programs and, foolishly, the decimation of the Probation Department are being implemented. These are costly mistakes. They are the definition of the phrase “penny wise, pound foolish.”

Butte County has an extraordinary history of achievement. By using a balanced approach to community problems emphasizing strong law enforcement intervention and coerced treatment programs, we have accomplished extraordinary results.

Now, it is threatened. I encourage citizens to consider another approach. Insist on, and fund, evidence-based, high-performing, community-based programs. Bring these programs to scale, meeting the demand of all who need the services.

Most crime is driven by substance abuse. Substance-abuse treatment works if it is coerced. We need a ballot measure that would fund full-capacity problem-solving courts, including our existing drug courts, DUI courts, Mentally-Ill-Offender Court, Domestic-Violence Court and a new Violation of Probation Court for the 1,800 unsupervised offenders in Butte County.

We also need new additions to the jail, with mandated male and female in-custody treatment pods; a decent and functional Own Recognizance program that works 24/7; Probation-based electronic-technology-monitoring programs; full mental-health and drug-treatment services within the jail and juvenile hall; plus significant and appropriate increases in the Probation Department, Sheriff’s Office, Behavioral Health, Public Health, and Social Services to support full expansion of the problem-solving courts to scale.

Simply put, we need more deputies, police and probation officers on the streets, more folks to hold criminals accountable and more capacity to get them off of drugs and alcohol and into the work force—or, if that fails, to apprehend and send dangerous folks to prison. Research has shown the way to solve our problems; we just need to follow the research.