Call it a “five strikes” law if you will — SF District Attorney Brooke Jenkins’s new drug misdemeanor policy hopes to tighten the screws on repeat offenders once they’ve racked up five drug possession and/or paraphernalia charges.
It is no surprise that San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins is continuously making efforts and pronouncements that cracking down on drug users and dealers is the centerpiece of her administration. On her very first day in office, she told the New York Times that she would be getting tougher on repeat drug offenders. A month later, she revoked a number of plea deals struck under her predecessor Chesa Boudin. And now the policy-side evolution of this crackdown continues, as the Chronicle reports on her office’s new policy of more legal consequences for repeat misdemeanor drug offenders.
1/ Today we are announcing a new policy where our office will bundle misdemeanor drug possession charges for individuals w/ at least five misdemeanor citations for public drug use. Individuals w/ bundled charges will be referred to the Community Justice Center (CJC).— SF DISTRICT ATTORNEY (@SFDAOffice) September 8, 2022
It’s sort of like a “five strikes” law, and as described, it sounds more like a way of compelling people into treatment than tossing them in jail. According to a Thursday press release “the District Attorney’s Office will bundle misdemeanor drug possession charges for individuals with at least five misdemeanor citations for public drug use. Individuals with bundled charges will be referred to the Community Justice Center.”
(The Community Justice Center is part of the SF court system, but focuses more on getting offenders into “drug treatment, mental health programs, support groups, counseling, career development and job training.”)
We are trying to maintain a level of compassion, which is a core value in SF, but intervene when we feel somebody has demonstrated that they’ve gotten to the point that this is too much of a danger to themselves & we need to step in. @kron4news https://t.co/CVvUu3uKw6— Brooke Jenkins 謝安宜 (@BrookeJenkinsSF) September 9, 2022
“What we are doing is SFPD has begun citing individuals that are engaged in public drug use,” Jenkins said in an interview with KRON4. “Both injecting and smoking, pipes, fentanyl, methamphetamines. When a person reaches five citations for that public drug use that is when we file a complaint that we forward to our community justice centers, so that we can connect that person with resources for treatment.”
When someone reaches 5 citations for public drug use, that's a clear signal that they're in a crisis & need support. My office is focused on targeting dealers who are bringing illicit drugs - in particular, highly potent fentanyl - onto our streets. https://t.co/2530g7AsX6— Brooke Jenkins 謝安宜 (@BrookeJenkinsSF) September 8, 2022
Though just as the sun sets in the west, Jenkins’s critics describe this, plus any and all new policies of hers, using “failed War on Drugs” language.
“Cute language — ‘bundle’ — doesn’t change the fact that this policy has been tried, again and again, and failed, again and again,” SF Public Defender’s Office managing attorney Danielle Harris told the Chronicle.
Political and policy opponents will call Jenkins “carceral” for this. But if it is as advertised, sending cases to the Community Justice Center certainly seems a more humane approach than sending people to jail. If she’s trying to burnish her “tough but still progressive” credentials, then from a political standpoint, this policy may well walk that tightrope effectively. And we should consider the politics of this, as Jenkins is in what figures to be a competitive November race.
But what’s more important is the street-level impact, and it remains to be seen what if any impact this new policy has in San Francisco neighborhoods most troubled with a visible drug trade — or if the SFPD will even want to bother issuing any of these citations.
Image: @BrookeJenkinsSF via Twitter