The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Treatment, Jail Pushers Clash over Cali. Drug Laws

The pro-treatment Proposition 36 has met a new challenge

by Shreema Mehta

July 20, 2006 – Not satisfied with the results of a California law that allows drug-law violators to choose between treatment and punishment, state policymakers have passed a bill that will allow judges to temporarily imprison those who skip the former.

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Proponents of the bill argue that “flash incarcerations� can serve as a wakeup call to those who quit or become complacent with their drug-treatment programs. Critics argue the bill violates the central principle of the voter-approved Proposition 36, the statewide 2000 ballot initiative declaring drug addiction warrants treatment instead of punishment.

Upon passage of the enforcement bill on July 12, the Drug Policy Alliance, an organization that advocates decriminalizing drugs, immediately sued the state.

Arguing that “the voters have spoken� in favor of preferring treatment, Proposition 36 co-author Dave Fratello told The NewStandard that legislators “lost the debate� on the subject and thus should not be end-running the popular will. Fratello is now the policy director for the Campaign for New Drug Policies.

The judge hearing the Drug Policy Alliance’s case imposed a temporary restraining order, forbidding the state from enacting the new law. The group is now preparing for the next court date on July 28.

Each year since the start of Proposition 36 in 2000, around 30,000 people have entered treatment instead of prison, according to state-mandated studies conducted by the University of California–Los Angeles. According to the latest demographic statistics from 2004, 52 percent of them accessed treatment for methamphetamine addiction.

"People are afraid to change. Instead of forcing them to go to prison, force them to go to a recovery program."

The treatment programs range from methadone maintenance to drug prevention education, designed for drug-law breakers who have been using for less than a year or may not yet be physically addicted.

But the UCLA evaluation found that out of the 70 percent of defendants who show up for the programs, just 34 percent successfully completed it.

Stephen Manley, a former drug-court judge who now presides over the Santa Clara County Superior Court, said this rate of completion is too low and that “flash incarcerations� could jolt defendants into committing to treatment. Manley headed a task force of legal, law-enforcement and treatment officials two years ago to address lawmakers’ concerns that not enough people were completing the program.

Fratello argued that jail is not a good motivating tool, and that there should be alternatives, especially when obstacles such as clashes in work schedules prevent people from going to treatment, and that adequately funding the program would help more people stay in the program.

Next year’s state budget provides $145 million in expectation of reforms to Proposition 36.

“Put some money in the outreach efforts to find [those who left treatment],� Fratello said. “If the reason is childcare or [that] they don’t have transportation, put some money into that,� he advocated, adding that such investments are cheaper than incarceration.

“We are afraid that’s going to reduce treatment qualities, in ways that punishment can’t fix. You can’t have jail time to close the gap."

According to a federally mandated UCLA cost-benefit study on Proposition 36, the policy saves the state almost $2,900 per drug-law violator over 30 months, or a total of about $173 million.

The new bill would also amend Proposition 36 to require drug testing of those in treatment programs as a condition of their parole and base evaluation of program success on clean drug tests.

Dr. Peter Banys, a member of the executive council for the California Society of Addiction Medicine and critic of the new law, said that with the likelihood of relapse, the state should not expect a high success rate for drug recovery programs.

Banys told TNS that while some defendants entering treatment adjust well to the recovery process, others relapse and go in and out of treatment. “The criminal-justice people want to put [defendants with mixed-treatment results] in jail, and the treatment people say we should think in a more complicated way,� he said.

Banys said imprisoning defendants after they begin treatment damages their recovery process.

He added that since quitting programs and relapsing is common in the general drug-treatment population as well, Proposition 36 defendants should be given second chances in the recovery process.

But Judge Manley points out that the new law is flexible and allows judges to exercise discretion when sending defendants to jail under its auspices. The bill allows judges to impose sanctions on “relapsing, problematic or recalcitrant offenders, on a showing of need after consideration of important treatment, and other factors.�

Proposition 36 has not completely removed the punishment aspect, especially for poor people, who depend on government resources and must often get “tagged and bagged” to receive treatment.

While the bill does not offer what these considerations might be, Manley said these factors can include the seriousness of the violation and whether the defendant is in school, caring for children, or in danger of losing his job if he gets sent to prison.

“I see good and bad in that provision,� Fratello responded. “It’s not really a control on judges,� he said. While some judges may take such factors into account, not all of them will, Fratello speculated.

“For instance if the judge knows [a defendant who skips treatment] will lose their job, nothing prevents the judge from putting them in jail anyway,� he said.

Oliver Hamilton, a warehouse manager in San Diego who avoided jail for a drug conviction because of Proposition 36, told TNS that incarceration “solves nothing.�

Hamilton, who had been “drinking and drugging� for more than 30 years before he went through a residential drug-treatment program two years ago, said many drug-law violators with long-term addictions are more afraid of recovery than jail. “People are afraid to change,� he said. “Instead of forcing them to go to prison, force them to go to a recovery program. If they decide to leave then, then it’s on them,� he said.

Advocates on both sides of the debate agree that if state officials are successful in getting more people in treatment through this bill, they will add more defendants to already-long waiting lines for drug treatment under a policy change that was not backed by sufficient government funding over the past six years.

“Even now the funding is probably not enough. When we wrote the initiative we made a guess,� Fratello said. “Now its 5,000 more people than we expected.�

County officials have told local reporters that their county will face budget shortfalls in implementing the law this year.

“We are afraid that’s going to reduce treatment qualities, in ways that punishment can’t fix. You can’t have jail time to close the gap,� Fratello said.

Dorsey Nunn is a recovering addict and current member of All of Us or None, an advocacy group of former prisoners that fights discrimination against felons. For him,
Proposition 36 marked an important step in decriminalizing drug offenses, but has not completely removed the punishment aspect, especially for poor people, who depend on government resources and must often get “tagged and bagged� to receive treatment. Police should not arrest people for drug possession, he said.

Nunn said poor addicts might access treatment only after they’ve been arrested or referred to treatment by Child Protective Services or probation officers.

He added that drug addiction is a “medical or social problem that shouldn’t be addressed by law enforcement.�




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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

This News Article originally appeared in the July 20, 2006 edition of The NewStandard.
Shreema Mehta is a staff journalist.

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