A proposed alternative to incarceration has sparked controversy as well as hope for many in California, where drug overdoses killed more than three times as many people as COVID-19 last year, reports San Francisco Chronicle. The program’s abstinence based approach has attracted attention, though some scholars and experts argue it will cause more harm. The proposal calls for a 105-bed residential treatment, transitional housing and detox program. People who are at risk of rearrest or have been rearrested could be referred by the district attorney, public defender or courts instead of being incarcerated. They could stay for more than two years and receive peer-led recovery groups, therapy, job, housing support and a lifetime of aftercare — but no medication. A California recovery coalition and Supervisor Ahsha Safaí are pushing Mayor London Breed and the Board of Supervisors to fund the program, which will cost an estimated $3.3 million.
Kristen Marshall, associate director of San Francisco programs at the National Harm Reduction Coalition, criticized the program as “drug jail”, calling it coercive. However, advocates like Safaí say it’s an opportunity to keep people from committing crimes and help them with underlying substance abuse issues so that they might turn their lives around. The city funds about 486 treatment beds, but none that exclude clients who use medications.