Drug into court

As the 20 or so people line up in a row down the middle of the courtroom at almost noon, there’s more than the usual amount of snuffling, shaking and sighing goin’ on with this group. There’s unconcealed grumbling due to the amount of time it took before their names were called so they could come forward.

I know if I was being called into court for doing something wrong, the last thing I would do is give the judge some verbal attitude about the wait time, but I haven’t been here in Department 8 since 8:30 a.m. as some of these people have.

And besides, they know the drill with Proposition 36. Get caught with some drugs, and you get probation—it’s the law. As an added bonus, you get three “treatment failures.” Don’t show up for court-ordered therapy and bring a weak excuse to court, and the judge simply orders another go-around and sends you along with an “I know you can do it,” or maybe a fatherly “Keep plugging.”

If you run into trouble with drugs, whether by joint or needle, you get put through this factory-in-a-courtroom. On one Friday morning, the judge quickly runs through his verbal spiel by rote, and about 20 people, both treatment failures and recent arrestees, are processed through the Proposition 36 system in all of 60 minutes.

The people in the orange jumpsuits from jail, held in the dock, are a little more respectful. Some time in the Sacramento County jail got their attention. Mostly men, mostly of color, they answer with a “Yes, sir” when questioned about the rights they’re waiving to get out through Proposition 36.

A “there but for the grace …” feeling washes over me as I remember my younger days and how many times I could have been arrested. There’s obviously a dose of compassion dispensed with Proposition 36 rather than a stick, but one wonders if this is working with some scammers and drug addicts, and at what cost (see “Behind the prop”). A couple of young men, when told by the judge that they’ll get yet another chance, turn and smile at the crowd with a knowing grin, as if they just got over on the system, and maybe they did.