It’s hardly encouraging that DA Brooke Jenkins's ten-month-old push to get low-level drug arrestees into treatment has only yielded three attempts to get people into treatment. It’s even less encouraging that none of them have shown up for their court dates.
In San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins’s self-declared “war on fentanyl,” she enacted a new policy last September to compel people who’ve been arrested for drugs into treatment instead of jail. And while her critics of course howled that this was just more “failed war on drugs” tactics, it also seemed like darned good politics for a city that’s exasperated with the street conditions and overdoses, but still hopes to be compassionate toward drug users.
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
But darned good politics can sometimes yield underwhelming outcomes. Case in point here: The Chronicle reports that Jenkins’s office has only tried to get three people into treatment in the ten months of this program, and that’s a moot point anyway, because none of them have showed up for court.
S.F. District Attorney Brooke Jenkins has charged three people with drug-related misdemeanors under a policy she announced in September to bundle citations and send defendants to an alternative court.— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) June 30, 2023
None have made it to alternative court yet. https://t.co/Ie8AQp4Vba
“We know that this work will be difficult and will not work for everyone, similar to other interventions to help people struggling with addiction,” Jenkins told the Chronicle this week. “Enforcement as a mechanism to get people into treatment is new for us and will take time to catch on, but we are committed to doing our part to help address the crisis we are seeing on our streets.”
Jenkins’s original plan was to identify anyone with five drug citations, and “bundle” those charges into one case before an alternative diversion court called the Community Justice Center. In December, she lowered the “bundle” threshold to three drug citations. This coming Monday, she’ll lower it to two citations.
Jenkins’s critics charge the repeated moving of the goalposts indicates this program is a flop.
“We’re never going to solve the addiction crisis with arbitrary and coercive approaches,” deputy public defender Vilaska Nguyen told the Chron. “The fact that the district attorney is willing to keep changing the number of arrests in her plan to bundle drug charges and funnel people to diversion courts shows just how arbitrary that approach is.”
Many San Franciscans may be pleased to see that we’re trying new approaches to address this fentanyl crisis. And this program may still work if given more time. The current crackdown is yielding more drug arrests, and lowering the “bundle” threshold will likely cast a wider net to get more people into treatment. But it’s fair so say that this particular diversion program has gotten zero results in ten months, and may be more focused on political messaging than actual outcomes.
Image: @BrookeJenkinsSF via Twitter