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Sheen to lead fight against rehab measure

August 28, 2008|Michael Rothfeld | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Martin Sheen, the politically liberal actor who has advocated a tough-love approach to drug addiction, is teaming up with California law-and-order groups to lead the charge against an initiative that would increase funding for rehabilitation programs.

The No on Proposition 5 Campaign announced Wednesday that Sheen would serve as its co-chairman and as the most prominent figure in the battle against the November ballot measure. The opponents said the initiative is too soft on addicts because it would expand the pool of offenders who could be diverted from serving jail or prison time by undergoing treatment.

Sheen, in publicly describing his battles with alcoholism and efforts to help his son, actor Charlie Sheen, to stop abusing drugs, has said the threat of jail time by a judge is needed to force addicts to commit to recovery.

"Fighting drug addiction is very close to my heart," Sheen, who was not available for an interview, said in a statement released by the campaign. "I believe in rehabilitation and not incarceration. But successful rehabilitation needs accountability and so often demands direct intervention in the life of someone who is addicted to drugs."

Charlie Sheen, who overdosed on drugs in 1998, once described walking into an intervention by family members to get him into rehabilitation. And Martin Sheen has said that long ago, he landed in jail several times for being drunk and disorderly.

Eight years ago, Martin Sheen opposed Proposition 36, a precursor to the November initiative that was approved by 61% of voters, creating programs to divert offenders from incarceration into treatment.

"He is a person who has personally struggled with addiction and it's unfortunate," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, the manager of the Yes on Proposition 5 campaign.

"But last I checked, he was an actor, not a policy expert, and I think that although his personal experiences need to be respected, they do not define good policy."

The main sponsor of the measure is the Drug Policy Alliance Network, which opposes punitive drug laws and also championed Proposition 36. Dooley-Sammuli said the earlier initiative had saved the state $1.5 billion, mostly in incarceration costs, without increasing crime but that it remains underfunded.

Proposition 5 would allocate $610 million in state funds through mid-2010 and increase funding gradually thereafter, to expand treatment opportunities, change the way offenders are diverted into programs and establish a juvenile treatment program. The costs could rise to $1 billion annually, according to an analysis by the state Legislative Analyst's Office, which said the measure could also save an equal amount by reducing the prison and parole populations.

The initiative would allow prison inmates to earn more time off their sentences for participating in rehabilitation. It would shorten parole terms for some nonviolent offenders but lengthen them for some violent offenders. It would reduce penalties for possession of a small amount of marijuana.

Although proponents say the measure also would improve accountability of offenders, foes -- including Los Angeles County's Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley, Sheriff Lee Baca and the Board of Supervisors -- say it would do the opposite.

Stephen Manley, a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge who supervises offenders in drug court, knows Martin Sheen, who he said has been a big supporter of the drug court movement.

Manley said the initiative allows offenders too many second chances without consequences.

Sheen, he said, understands that "the earlier you intervene and coerce change, the more likely you are to have the offender successfully complete treatment."

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michael.rothfeld@latimes.com

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