The Times’ editorial board advocates for a return to the failed war on drugs. It criticizes King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg’s charging policies on possessions of small amounts of drugs and says more aggressive prosecution will address drug addiction, the “the root cause” of perceived public-safety problems.
Empirically, the war on drugs failed to reduce crime and resulted in the disproportionate incarceration of people of color. We should not return to a failed and racist strategy.
We must continue to develop and fund alternatives. LEAD and Vital have both been shown to change behavior by addressing addiction and homelessness. Just last week, a Times reporter covered Vital, profiling a woman who changed her life not after multiple incarcerations but with the help of meaningful services.
Nonetheless, we spend a pittance on these programs. LEAD’s annual budget in Seattle is $4.4 million. Vital’s is $1 million. Compare this to Seattle Municipal Court’s annual budget of $34 million.
The Times is right: Justice and compassion are not mutually exclusive. But compassion and jail are. Repeatedly sending low-level offenders to jail does nothing to resolve the underlying causes of individual behavior.
Anita Khandelwal, director, King County Department of Public Defense, Seattle