California Nonprofit Fights to Reform Drug Policy, Criminal Justice SystemShelby Wall
The Serenity Prayer encourages us to accept the things we cannot change, but it also encourages us to take courage and change the things we can no longer accept. This lesson is fully embodied by nonprofit group A New PATH, which has been instrumental in California’s drug policy reform over the last 20 years. Today we’ll examine their impact on California legislation.
About A New PATH
In the spring of 1999, A New PATH – Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing – was founded three parents whose children were struggling with addiction. Founders Gretchen Burns Bergman, Tom O’Donnell, and Sylvia Liwerant met at a family support group.
A New PATH works to reduce the stigma associated with addiction by way of education and support. Their vision statement paints a picture of decreased recidivism, saved lives, and a healthy society free of discriminatory drug policies. Towards this end, they advocate for therapeutic rather than punitive drug policies.
The nonprofit has three main proposals for therapeutic justice:
- Long-term rehabilitation in a structured recovery environment for non-violent drug offenders.
- Any sentencing beyond this should include immediate placement in a rehabilitation and recovery program within the prison system.
- Upon release, those recovering from substance use disorders should be offered transitional programs to prepare them for gradual, safe re-entry into society.
Nonprofit Impacts California Legislation
A New PATH has been an integral part of California’s drug policy reform, particularly in the context of the criminal justice system. Members meet with judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys to discuss what they call “the criminalization of a health issue.”
Previously, the nonprofit has contributed to the passage of landmark legislation:
- Proposition 36, the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act of 2000, permanently changed state law to allow non-violent offenders to receive probation and treatment in lieu of incarceration. Prop 36 passed with 6,233,422 (over 60%) of the vote.
- Proposition 47 – sometimes called the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act – passed in November of 2014. It converted many nonviolent offenses, including drug possession, from felonies to misdemeanors. It also required that all money saved as a result of this would be redirected to funds for victim services, mental health, truancy prevention, and addiction treatment.
- Various bills supporting increased access to Naloxone, a lifesaving drug for those who have overdosed on opioids.
The stance of A New PATH is that the outsize consequences in place for drug possession can jeopardize one’s recovery. Previous convictions, particularly felonies, can make it extremely difficult to find gainful employment after getting sober.
Stigma-Busting in California
Above all else, A New PATH contributes to what they call “stigma-busting.” At the time of the nonprofit’s founding, the mental health landscape looked vastly different – it was very uncommon to discuss taboo health issues, particularly addiction to drugs and alcohol. In the years since, A New PATH has created campaigns to reduce stigma that extend through six countries and thirty-five states in the U.S.
The nonprofit’s demonstrations include leaving an empty chair at the holiday table (to represent those who are lost to drugs, through incarceration, death, or distance). They also give away Narcan to seminar attendees, provide free Naloxone, and host the “Strut for Sobriety.” You can learn more by visiting their website.
How You Can Give Back
If your life has been touched by addiction, you may want to give back to your community like the members of A New PATH. Californians can join in on their efforts directly, through membership or donation, but there are other ways to begin dismantling stigma and helping others in your neighborhood.
- Become an active member of the recovery community. By regularly attending meetings and sober social gatherings, you can inspire and aid others who may be having a tough time – plus it’s good for your recovery!
- Talk about it. Studies show that personal stories and discussing addiction in general can humanize the disease, illustrating that it can happen to anyone – and that recovery is possible.
- Educate others. If you hear a friend, family member, or stranger spouting some misconceptions about addiction, don’t be afraid to speak up. Equipping others with knowledge goes a long way towards reducing stigma.
- Look for those who need help. If you notice any of the signs of addiction in an acquaintance, choose to compassionately say something. Assist them through the process of finding resources and support.
- Volunteer. Spend your free time working with addiction-focused nonprofits to pass legislation and help those in need.
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