Magazine article Corrections Forum

Proposition 36 Attracting More "Hard Core" Addicts Than Expected

Magazine article Corrections Forum

Proposition 36 Attracting More "Hard Core" Addicts Than Expected

Article excerpt

Six months after California's Proposition 36 took effect, several reports on its progress indicate that the measure is being implemented as planned, but experiencing some unexpected obstacles. California's Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, also known as Proposition 36, was passed by 61 percent of California voters on Nov. 7, 2000 and implemented in July 2001 (see Justice Bulletin January 2001). The initiative allows first-- and second-time, nonviolent, simple drug possession offenders the opportunity to receive substance abuse treatment instead of incarceration. The success of Proposition 36 is important because the Campaign for New Drug Policies (CNDP), the advocacy group that sponsored the bill, is trying to get similar legislation on the ballot for the November 2002 elections in Florida, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and other states.

Diversion to Rehabilitation

One of the major selling points of this landmark initiative was the idea that as many as 37,000 convicted drug users could be diverted away from the criminal justice system and into rehabilitation, saving as much as $250 million annually in prison costs, and perhaps much more in medical, welfare and other social costs. However, the new law was opposed by many state district attorneys and state drug court judges who argued that Proposition 36 will overwhelm the parole system and community treatment programs, as well as limit the effectiveness of existing drug courts. With an annual budget of approximately $120 million for five and a half years to support treatment, probation and parole services across California's 58 counties, many also argued that the measure was significantly under funded.

Although statewide statistics on the effectiveness of the new law have not been compiled yet, various accounts suggest that some of the detractors' fears may have materialized. Several counties, including Santa Clara, Los Angles and San Diego, reported at a recent California legislative hearing on Nov. 14, that those eligible for treatment under Proposition 36 are more severe addicts than expected, with several other concomitant problems such as mental illness, homelessness and unemployment. Many counties budgeted for clients with less complex problems, creating outpatient slots suitable for low-- level addicts. According to a news report in Sacramento County, officials estimated that 70 percent of offenders using the new law would be casual drug users needing the lowest level of outpatient treatment, consisting of three months of therapy and about six months of follow-up. According to county officials, however, only about 30 percent have been assigned to this group, while more than 65 percent require more extensive treatment and after care services. In addition, county officials report that almost one-third of offenders being treated under Proposition 36 suffer from mental illness, two-thirds are not working and one-third requires vocational training.

A similar trend was reported in San Diego County, where only 12 percent of referrals are going into level one treatment, which is mostly educational. According to Al Medina, administrator of the County Alcohol and Drug Program, 45 percent of Proposition 36 offenders are enrolled in outpatient day treatment and 31 percent require intensive outpatient day treatment.

Although the new law has attracted more "hard core" addicts than expected, it is also witnessing fewer referrals than originally projected. …

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