In 2014, California held a referendum on whether or not to re-categorize certain non-violent offenses, including drug possession and petty theft, as misdemeanors, rather than felonies. Nearly 60 percent of the public voted in favor of the change. Proposition 47 was implemented, releasing roughly 13,500 inmates from California’s correctional facilities.
For addicts, it should have been a step forward. Drugs and moonshine are widely available in many prisons and jails — and in-house addiction treatment options are sorely lacking. Based on statistical probability and the type of crimes that were re-categorized, many inmates freed under Prop 47 would have had addictions and mental health problems.
Prop 47 should have given these offenders the opportunity to tackle their issues, instead of rotting away in overcrowded jails, with little or no treatment. Sadly, an investigation by The Desert Sun of Palm Springs, California, revealed that many of the state’s ex-inmates are now homeless, back on drugs and committing petty crime to feed their habits.
The Addicts Failed By Prop 47
The Desert Sun interviewed Wayne Woods, a cocaine and heroin addict who had served two decades behind bars. Just weeks after Prop 47 released him, Woods was smoking crack on Skid Row and doing “worse” than before.
Ruben Lopez Jr. told a similar story, having served 20 years in prison after being convicted of meth possession. He was freed by the new legislation, only to find himself sleeping rough and smoking meth again. When asked if Prop 47 had helped him, he replied: “No. It helped me get out of jail. But ultimately it just let me loose to bury myself.”
Lopez, who also has bi-polar disorder, did join two state rehabilitation programs, but quit both, claiming they resembled prisons.
Elliot Currie, a University of California, Irvine, criminologist told The Desert Sun how Prop 47 was failing the addicts it had freed: “The problem is if you don’t actually do anything to change conditions of their lives, they’re going to be back on the streets anyway. What’s to prevent them from going back to the same old ways when they get out? The answer is nothing.”
But there is an answer. And Rochelle Solombrino found it.
The Power of Rehabilitation for Ex-Inmates
Rochelle Solombrino had committed 47 alcohol and drug-fueled misdemeanors over four decades but found no help for her problems in prison. She finally entered treatment after being released.
Rehabilitation helped her let go of past traumas. “Every treatment step that we did, this weight just kept being lifted and lifted and lifted, and I was free,” Solombrino said.
Solombrino hasn’t touched alcohol or drugs since treatment and now holds down a steady job. She feels sorry for the inmates released under Prop 47. “Those were active addicts,” Solombrino said. “Those are people that needed help.”
The Need for Immediate Treatment
The Desert Sun’s investigation highlights how offenders with substance use problems and mental health issues need to access treatment as soon as they leave prison. If these problems aren’t addressed immediately, ex-inmates can fall back into the same cycle of addiction and crime within weeks or even days.
Michael’s House in Palm Springs, California, specializes in treating people who have an addiction and a co-occurring mental health disorder. Michael’s House offers a range of payment options, including self-pay plans for people not covered by insurance, so rehabilitation can start straight away.
Since trauma and mental health issues often precede addiction, treatment at Michael’s House includes therapy for emotional problems along with rehabilitation tools. Patients with mental health disorders can expect psychiatric and medical support throughout the course of treatment.
Rehab Doesn’t Have to Feel Like Prison
For those leaving prison, the outpatient center at Michael’s House could have special appeal, since it allows clients the freedom of living at home, or in a sober living home, while offering all the support needed to change their lives.
Treatment is delivered by compassionate, non-judgmental staff who accept patients as they are and tailor care plans to the individual’s needs and goals.
Building a Better Life
People who have been locked up for a long time can struggle with institutionalization. Michael’s House offers life skills classes to help clients cope with living in the real world without needing substances for support.
Another vital part of re-integrating back into society after an addiction or incarceration is discovering interests that promote health, growth, fun and sociability, and finding healthier circles of friends.
Michael’s House can assist with all of this, offering activities such as hiking in the scenic San Jacinto Mountains that surround the facility, going bowling or even trying out yoga or Tai Chi. Finding new sober friends is also facilitated, as Michael’s House introduces patients to fellowship groups and other alumni who are in recovery.
Getting a job is a crucial component of turning away from a life of crime and addiction and doing something productive and rewarding. Having a job has been proven to raise self-esteem.
The outpatient program at Michael’s House provides education and careers support, including resume-building and interview skills, something with which ex-inmates often struggle.
Prop 47 means that ex-offenders no longer have to report felony convictions that have been retroactively re-categorized on job applications. This removes a massive barrier for people jailed for drug possession when it comes to finding a fulfilling job.
Continuing the Recovery Journey
When intensive treatment has finished, it is important to have support to maintain sobriety and stay on the right track. Everyone who participates in programs at Michael’s House is provided with aftercare to ensure the smooth transition from rehabilitation to living as a happy, healthy, free individual.
While Prop 47 may have failed to guide ex-inmates to appropriate, helpful rehabilitation options, those who recognize how comprehensive, caring treatment could change their lives are always welcome at Michael’s House.
Written by Beth Burgess