Gay Calif. Inmates Restricted from Drug Rehab Program
Michael Lamar Salomonson, 46, of Palm Springs, Calif., claims that he has been denied access to a prestigious drug rehabilitation program because he is gay, the Los Angeles Times reported in a Jan. 11 article.
The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department refuses to allow gay jail inmates into the program because of a policy that rejects inmates who are in protective custody. Openly gay inmates, like Salomonson, are put into protective custody and are removed from the other prisoners.
Salomonson is a chronic meth user and was arrested and charged last December for burglarizing a home in Palm Springs. During his appeal negotiations, Salomonson’s attorney and the Riverside County district attorney’s office came to the decision that Salomonson would attend the 180-day Residential Substance Abuse Program instead of serving a two-year jail sentence.
"It’s a wonderful program, but they won’t let him in," said Roger Tansey, the public defender representing Salomonson. "I think it’s just easier for the jail to run it this way, but you can’t legally discriminate just because it’s easier for you."
Tansey agrees that those gay inmates should be separated from other prisoners but says that the Sheriff’s Department needs to change the policy to accept inmates in protective custody.
Tansey recently filed a motion in the Riverside County Superior Court in order to get the Sheriff’s Department to accept gays into the rehab.
Additionally, it seems as though the Sheriff’s Department has ignored the state’s Proposition 36, or the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act. The initiative statue allows individuals who are convicted of non-violent drug possession crimes to receive a probationary sentence instead of being jailed. The defendants, however, must complete a drug treatment program. If they fail to finish the program or violate their terms then they risk their probation and can be put in jail.
Jerry Gutierrez, the sheriff’s chief deputy, says that the reason why protected inmates aren’t allowed in the program is because prisoners must live together for an period of six months.
Inmates who have a medical disability, have been a victims of jail assaults or have been convicted of sexually assaulting minors are also placed in protective custody. Gutierrez says that mixing these prisoners with ones from the general population "could create a volatile situation."
"Our goal is to treat everyone who needs to be treated in our program, but there’s only so much that can go around,’ said Gutierrez said. "We only have so many resources.’’
He also adds that if there are enough inmates in protective custody to qualify entering the rehab, the department will consider expanding the program.