Dooley-Sammuli, Margaret


Margaret Dooley-Sammuli is Deputy State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance Network in Southern California.

No Exit: Many Drug Courts Don’t Reduce Re-Arrest Rates

By Margaret Dooley-Sammuli
Drug Policy Alliance

As I wrote last week, California’s counties have recently been given more authority (under AB 109, or “public safety realignment”) to develop their own policy responses to drug law violations. Given that drug offenses account for a huge proportion of all people involved in the criminal justice system at the county level, this is as big a challenge as an opportunity.

This isn’t just about reducing the number of people behind bars for a drug law violation, but about keeping them out of the criminal justice system all together – and about getting them out once they’re in.

Drug Penalties: Too Harsh for Anyone’s Good

By Margaret Dooley-Sammuli
Drug Policy Alliance

Under recently enacted AB 109 and subsequent legislation (“public safety realignment”), most people convicted of a drug law violation are no longer being sent to state prison. Instead, they now remain under supervision at the county level. That means it’s now up to the counties to decide how to respond to most drug law violations, but only up to a point. State laws continue to dictate penalties.

Under state law, possession of even a tiny amount of an illicit substance (other than marijuana) for personal use is typically a felony offense – which is punishable by up to three years behind bars and which also carries many lifelong collateral consequences (including barriers to employment and housing).

Can Counties Act Where the State Has Failed?

By Margaret Dooley-Sammuli
Drug Policy Alliance

Ask any prosecutor or defense attorney, and they'll tell you about a recent case in their county where someone with a history of petty offending was once again in front of a judge - this time facing two decades or more behind bars. Sacramento resident Herbert Hale Sr., a 64-year-old, disabled and chronically ill Vietnam War combat veteran who suffers from a decades' old addiction to heroin, is one of these cases. He was arrested for purchasing heroin and has no history of prior serious or violent offenses.

To Reduce Prison Population, Stop Denying Employment

By Margaret Dooley-Sammuli and Michelle Natividad Rodriguez

The US Supreme Court this week upheld a 3-judge federal court order requiring California to significantly reduce its prison population in two years. California will not have to let any inmates out early to achieve this reduction – but it will need to slow the rate of putting people back in. About 60 percent of people (the highest rate in the nation) will be returned to prison in California within three years of their release. The state’s shamefully high re-incarceration rate is driven by many factors, but perhaps the most pernicious are practices that all but ban employment of formerly incarcerated people. Denying jobs to people with a conviction history punishes us all.

My First Mothers Day

By Margaret Dooley-Sammuli

My husband and I will welcome our first child at the end of this month. It’s a very exciting time – one filled with hopes for who our child will be and trepidation at what he will face in life. There are all the usual questions: will he be healthy? Will he be smart? Who will he grow up to be? And then there’s the concern that sometimes sneaks up on me when I least expect it: will he develop an alcohol or drug problem?

I’m not sure how many other moms-to-be have the same worry, but I doubt I’m alone. About 7.8 million Americans are in need of drug treatment, according to the 2009 U.S. National Survey of Drug Use and Health. And all of them belong to families – like mine.

Ending the Failed War on Drugs: New Directions for California

By Margaret Dooley-Sammuli
Drug Policy Alliance

Many of us don’t remember a time before the drug war. It’s hard to imagine a world in which hundreds of thousands of Americans were not arrested, and many of them incarcerated, every year for simple drug possession. It’s hard to imagine, too, a world in which funding for drug treatment flowed as readily as funding for prisons currently does.

It’s hard to imagine, but it’s critical that we envision that world – and then make it a reality.

Preserve Safety Net, Cut Corrections

By Margaret Dooley-Sammuli
Drug Policy Alliance

Because of California's continuing budget crises, the question is no longer will we cut the corrections’ budget but how. Every dollar spent on big prisons this year will be taken from children's health care, family welfare, students' education, and services to our elderly and infirm. 

We cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the past in terms of shredding the education and social safety net or investing billions in incarceration policies that cycle men and women in-and-out of violent, overcrowded prisons and back to our communities. The decisions made now will have real and lasting consequences for the health and safety of California communities for decades.

The Punishment Legacy: Criminalization, Healthcare Reform and Prop. 36

By Margaret Dooley-Sammuli

The healthcare legislation President Obama signed late last month promises to bring sweeping changes to California’s alcohol and drug treatment system. Not only will more people have access to insurance; heath insurers will be required to cover alcohol and drug treatment as they do any other chronic health condition (aka “parity”). Drug treatment – which currently exists largely outside the mainstream healthcare and insurance systems – may finally be allowed to come in from the cold.

As we work to make that treatment access a reality in California, however, we need to address the state’s existing contradictory policy responses to drug use. Our State Legislature is on record as supporting parity, having passed legislation several times (the governor’s veto notwithstanding). And the electorate is on record as supporting expanded access to treatment, both for alcohol and drugs (Proposition 36 in 2000) and for mental health (Proposition 63 in 2004).

Prison Guards Are Not the Enemy

By Margaret Dooley-Sammuli

Prison guards – aka correctional officers – are not the enemy. Yes, California’s correctional officers make a lot of money compared to their counterparts in other states. Yes, they have formed a wealthy, politically ruthless lobbying powerhouse, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), which has repeatedly stood in the way of much-needed reform. And, yes, my organization went head to head with them when they self-interestedly opposed a 2008 ballot initiative we sponsored that would have safely reduced the prison size while investing in better drug treatment. Their fear-mongering ads convinced voters to keep drug offenders locked up at a cost of one billion dollars per year (so if you are wondering why your elementary school is closing two weeks early this year, it’s at least in part because CCPOA and other fans of big prisons don’t want petty offenders to get two weeks off their sentence).

A Losing Compromise

MargaretDooleySammuliPic.jpgMargaret Dooley-Sammuli
Executive Director
Drug Policy Alliance

The California State Assembly is preparing to vote today to create a sentencing commission that would give law enforcement exclusive veto power over changes to the state’s sentencing practices from 2013. This seriously flawed structure would be as unworkable as the state’s crippled budget process in which some votes, in effect, count more than others – and would hold the new sentencing commission hostage to law enforcement.