Lock ’em up on drug charges? That’s one sheriff’s idea to fight homelessness
| Sep 27, 2019
| L.A. Times – In the face of an ever-growing homelessness crisis, cities across California have been searching for solutions, from adding shelters and affordable housing to improving mental health and substance abuse services.
But in Bakersfield, officials are considering a more radical approach: They want to put homeless people in jail for misdemeanor drug offenses and potentially for trespassing.
The tactic would fly in the face of criminal justice reform over the past decade in California, as the state has leaned away from incarceration for low-level, nonviolent drug crimes.
It also would counter mainstream thinking on preventing homelessness and addressing the reality of it.
The plan, which is being spearheaded by Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood and Kern County Dist. Atty. Cynthia Zimmer, remains in its early stages.
But it has widespread support from the corridors of power in Bakersfield and Kern County.
To become reality, the pilot program will need approval from the Bakersfield City Council for the appropriation of funds, but won’t require any official changes in policy.
Although the county operates the jails and courts, a substantial portion of the money for the proposal is likely to come from the city.
The lack of opposition to trying to use the criminal justice system to deal with homelessness speaks to the political climate in this part of the Central Valley.
“Obviously, it’s a more conservative approach,” Youngblood said, describing Kern as “the last large conservative county, probably, in the state of California.”
Homelessness is not a new problem in Bakersfield, the seat of Kern County, but it has surged dramatically in recent years.
The city’s 2019 point-in-time count, which was conducted in January, recorded a 108% increase in unsheltered homeless people compared to the prior year … Read more.