n Oct. 23, 1,869 inmates were in San Francisco county jail, 229 of them charged with simple possession of illegal drugs, according to Sheriff Michael Hennessey.
That means more than 12 percent of the overcrowded jail's beds were occupied by people with drug problems but who had committed no other crime. Today, District Attorney Terence Hallinan convenes a meeting of city and state officials to put into practice the provisions of Proposition 36, which was approved by voters on Nov. 7. Hallinan and Hennessey believe that Prop 36 could alleviate San Francisco's chronic jail overcrowding and help drug addicts kick their habits. Its key provisions are geared to sending first- and second-time drug offenders into treatment programs rather than jail cells. "This conference will deal with practical questions such as: How will courts handle these cases? How will treatment programs be certified and how will money be allocated," Hallinan said. "It's up to us in law enforcement and government to implement it effectively." Joining the district attorney and sheriff will be Supervisor Gavin Newsom, who was a major proponent of Prop 36, and Court Commissioner Newton Lam. Santa Clara Univerity School of Law professor Gerald Uelmen will speak along with Dr. David Smith of the Haight Ashbury Medical Center. Also slated to attend are officials from the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs. Although Hallinan organized the meeting, his purpose has been questioned by some who see it as an attempt to upstage Mayor Willie Brown, who is putting together a major summit on crime early next year. Brown has been critical of the district attorney's prosecution of drug defendants and prostitutes. The mayor believes Hallinan has been too lax in his enforcement of those laws. P.J. Johnston, the mayor's press secretary, said neither Brown nor Health Department Director Dr. Mitchell Katz will attend the session. Katz was scheduled as a speaker, but will be out of town, Johnston said. "If anyone should have been invited, it should have been Kimiko Burton, head of the mayor's Criminal Justice Council," Johnston said. But she is on leave after giving birth. "But from what I've seen, there's not a whole lot of buzz on this Hallinan thing," Johnston said. Newsom, wary of getting caught "in the crosshairs of the mayor and district attorney," said the conference is "absolutely critical in terms of importance" in implementing Prop 36. "San Francisco is second in the nation in the percentage of drug addicts," Newsom said. "It has a huge challenge in dealing with this epidemic." The supervisor said Hallinan's conference will open a dialogue on how to make sure people who need treatment get it rather than jail. "We need to ramp up and we need to do it immediately," he said. "This is absolutely the first step." Hennessey said his staff did a "snapshot" to determine the jail population for one day and chose Oct. 23. "Based on the one-day snapshot, it appears San Francisco will regularly need hundreds of drug treatment beds or programs slots with certified treatment centers," he said. The sheriff also said a concern of his regarding Prop 36 is that although a drug possession defendant can opt for treatment rather than jail, it's uncertain how many will. Some may choose to do 30 days in jail rather than six months in a treatment center. Lam, a court commissioner who has presided over drug court, said the difference between it and what Prop 36 calls for is most distinct at the plea stage. He said drug court operates a pre-plea program that allows a person to seek and complete drug rehabilitation. Prop 36 requires a conviction before treatment.
"Hopefully this conference will clarify for everyone" the provisions of Prop 36 "so we're all on the same page," Lam said.