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Saturday, December 15 , 2018, 10:52 am | Fair 61º


Mental Health, Addiction Treatment Advocates Talk Measure S, Prop. 19

Group seeks more information, assurances on programs to be funded by jail-tax initiative

Members of Families ACT! and other community groups gathered Saturday to advocate treatment rather than punishment for people struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction. In front of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department headquarters, they talked about upcoming ballot decisions.

They focused on Measure S, the half-cent sales tax measure that, if approved by county voters on Nov. 2, would fund jail construction and renovation, programs and increased law enforcement and fire protection in the amount of $30 million per year for the next 14 years. The new jail and programs to reduce recidivism would aim to reduce overcrowding.

About $5 million per year is earmarked for treatment, and Families ACT! executive director Suzanne Riordan is calling for more details about how that money will be spent. Merely building another jail and doing “more of the same” is no way to deal with people with drug or alcohol addiction, she said.

Laura’s Law — which allows for court-ordered outpatient commitment of patients with mental health issues — is under debate these days, said Riordan, who added that she believes there’s a place for involuntary facilities and locked facilities, but outside the criminal justice system.

Stefanee White, a former addict who is getting her credential as a drug and alcohol counselor, emphasized the need to deal with mental illnesses in addition to substance abuse issues. Many people struggle with both and become repeat offenders.

“Incarceration is not the answer, treatment is,” she said.

The support to mental health treatment has visibly decreased in past years, said Michael Kotowski, a treatment advocate. “It takes some money, compassion and knowledge of who these people are that you’re stepping over in the street.”

Lasaro Coreas, a Families ACT! organizer, talked about the effects of drug and alcohol addiction and incarceration on the Latino community.

“Our children are the ones who are suffering the most,” he said.

Moms Unite to End the War on Drugs member Gretchen Bergman spoke in favor of Proposition 19, the state initiative to legalize personal use of marijuana, as a way to change the policies of punishment to treatment. Regulation would help keep it out of the hands of minors and make some money for the state in the process, she said.

Spending $40 billion a year on the “war on drugs” is “absolute insanity,” she said.

“It’s not because we love alcohol and drugs,” she said. “It’s the opposite — we love our children.”

Removing the stigma, guilt and shame of addiction and mental illness is the way to treatment and ending the cycle of incarceration, speakers said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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