Mar 16, 2014

New York Times essays tackle the issue of addiction and treatment

On February 10, 2014, The New York Times' Room for Debate series tackled the important and complex issue of addiction and treatment. These essays provide a well-rounded look at the causes of addiction, and more importantly, what can be done to break the cycle. As Boston College's Gene Heyman wrote, "What research shows is that those we label addicts have the capacity to take control of their lives. It is time to reformulate drug policy and addiction interventions on the basis of this well-established finding."

It Is a Disease and Needs to Be Treated as Such
David Sack, Psychiatrist
"Research has shown that it has the properties of other medical disorders, including genetic links and a susceptibility to medication."

As With Other Problems, Class Has a Role
Carl L. Hart, Columbia University
"Crack became popular in poor areas because there were few 'competing reinforcers,' other affordable sources of pleasure and purpose."

A Spiritual Understanding Is Needed
Lisa Miller, Spirituality Mind Body Institute, Columbia University
"A personal relationship with a higher power is the most powerful protection against the "mystic consciousness'' of substance abuse."

A Matter of Difficult Choices
Gene Heyman, Boston College
"Most addicts keep using until penalties of excessive use become overwhelming. Research shows that addicts can take control of their lives."


Bad Habits Can Be Learned and Unlearned
Marc Lewis, Author, "Memoirs of an Addicted Brain"
"Addiction involves the pursuit of attractive goals. It is hardly abnormal. It involves brain changes because that's how learning works."

No Quick Fix or Simple Approach Will Do
Peg O'Connor, Gustavus Adolphus College
"Doctors tell pre-diabetic patients to make healthy choices, but those can be beyond the control of many people."

Mar 11, 2014

SF Commissioner spearheads collaborative justice on Yurok tribal land

Tribal judge works for Yurok-style justice
By Lee Romney
Los Angeles Times (March 5, 2014)

"Abinanti in 1974 became the first Native American woman admitted to the State Bar of California. A longtime San Francisco Superior Court commissioner, she tried to retire in 2011 but was recently asked to return every other week, in addition to her work on the tribal court." (Photography by Francine Orr)

Klamath, Calif. -- Abby Abinanti squints at her docket. "The court is going to call — the court is going to put on its glasses," she says dryly, reaching to grab her readers and snatch some candy from a staff member.

As chief judge of the Yurok Tribal Court, Abinanti wears no robe. On this day, she's in jeans and cowboy boots, her silver hair spilling down the back of a black down vest. In contrast to her longtime role as a San Francisco Superior Court commissioner, she doesn't perch above those who come before her; she shares a table with them.

"Hi, big guy. How are you doing?" she softly prods a 29-year-old participant in her wellness court, which offers a healing path for nonviolent offenders struggling with substance abuse.

Abinanti has watched Troy Fletcher Jr. battle bipolar disorder and methamphetamine addiction, land in jail and embrace recovery under the tribe's guidance. She's known his grandmother since before he was born.

Though that would be cause for recusal in the state system, here it's pretty much the point. Her most common question for court newcomers: "Who's your mom?"

"Here we have a village society," Abinanti says of California's largest tribe, "and the people who help you to resolve your problems are the people you know."

Native American jurisprudence has evolved since tribes began to regain their sovereignty, returning to traditional values of respect, community support and responsibility, and collective healing — for victims, perpetrators and the circle of lives they touch.

Abinanti, who in 1974 became the first Native American woman admitted to the State Bar of California, has been at the forefront.

Related article:
Yurok Chief Judge Abby Abinanti and the wooden acorns she awards to successful participants in the tribe's wellness court.
"Yurok Chief Judge Abby Abinanti at her desk in Klamath, Calif. The handmade wooden acorns are given out individuals who successfully complete the tribe's wellness court program." (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times / November 20, 2013)

Mar 10, 2014

Bay Area Spotlight: Five Keys Charter School documentary aired on PBS (VIDEO)

Last month, PBS aired a POV documentary on San Francisco's Five Keys Charter School, entitled "A High School Behind Bars." 

As described on their website, "Five Keys Charter School educates inmates and ex-offenders within the jail and post-release systems in a pro-social environment by providing high school classes and access to community-based programs that provide recovery, parenting, and work skills. By implementing the principles of restorative justice and encouraging full participation in education, counseling, community and work programs, Five Keys Charter School will contribute to reducing recidivism rates, improving public safety and economic activity, and facilitating safe and cost-reduced jail operations."

Many San Francisco Collaborative Court participants are advancing their education through this innovative program. We applaud Five Keys Charter School for their vision and critically important work in the community.

Mar 6, 2014

KGO-TV: "SF celebrates first year of vet court" (VIDEO)

SF celebrates first year of vet court 
By Lyanne Melendez
Wednesday, March 5, 2014

It's been a year since San Francisco introduced a special court to deal with veterans who commit minor offenses. The idea is to offer treatment rather than jail. On Wednesday, the veteran justice court began its second year.

The folks in San Francisco heard about vet court in San Jose, they went to check it out, they liked what they saw and then they brought it to San Francisco. Now, it's here to stay.

It's Wednesday afternoon and veteran after veteran stands before Judge Braden Woods. All of them were caught committing a non-violent felony.

"Using drugs, alcohol to the excess where my life just got unmanageable, committing crimes," said veteran Warner Graves.
Others may be here for other offenses such as shoplifting or car break-ins. But this is not like your traditional courtroom.

"The biggest difference is that we're trying to get folks into treatment. The vets, they're earned these privileges in terms of free-medical, mental health through their service to this country. So we're trying to get them connected with the V.A. to get the services they need," said Judge Braden Woods from Veterans Justice Court.

So instead of going to jail, they come to vet court, enroll in the program to get help with problems like drug addiction, alcoholism or mental illnesses. They are closely monitored. Some have to check in with case managers and the court as often as three times a week.

Vet court is part of San Francisco's Community Justice Center. It too follows the same model -- helping people in the tenderloin and nearby neighborhoods get the services they need.

"So it's a very supportive court. Instead of having a judge scold you, they clap for your success," said San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

Stephen Bennett was one of the first to enroll in the vet program. Even though he's now a graduate, he still has to report to court. He has managed to turn his life around. Bennett said, "Once I accepted it, I knew I had to move on and learn how to be... or go back to being a constructive citizen in society."

Both programs are gaining national attention for helping people break the cycle of incarceration and transforming their lives.

Click here to view this report online.