The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

Drug-Policy Activists Fight to Preserve Calif. Treatment Program

by Shreema Mehta

Jan. 26, 2007 – California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is accused once again of attempting to undermine a popular state measure that provides treatment instead of jail time to thousands of drug-law violators.

Proposition 36, passed by California voters in 2000, allows first- and second-time non-violent drug possessors to receive treatment rather than go to jail and to have their criminal record cleared upon completion of treatment. The initiative is designed to better help drug users while alleviating overcrowding in prisons and saving tax dollars.

In response to a court order blocking changes to how drug-law violators are treated under Proposition 36, Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget promises fewer funds for the program.

The proposed budget cut $60 million from funds for Proposition 36, which drug-policy reformers celebrate for helping thousands of non-violent offenders avoid jail time and get treatment instead. It puts $35 million of that amount into a fund called the Substance Abuse Offender Treatment Program, which does not distribute money unless counties propose matching funds.

Drug Policy Alliance spokesperson Margaret Dooley told The NewStandard that the budget proposal could hurt thousands of Californians in treatment programs since many counties may not have the funds or wherewithal to match state dollars. Advocates say that with many residents on waiting lists to receive treatment, Proposition 36 is already under-funded. Offenders who do not receive or complete treatment remain on probation and keep their criminal records.

The proposal is in reaction to a court-ordered injunction, which last September halted a bill that would have mandated changes to the program requested by Schwarzenegger.

As previously reported by TNS, that bill was designed to help raise the percentage of drug-law violators who complete treatment. It would have allowed judges to jail convicts who miss treatments, mandated drug testing for treatment participants, and required counselors to provide treatment updates to the probation department.

The Drug Policy Alliance won the injunction by suing the state, arguing the bill was unconstitutional because by allowing possible jail time for offenders, it violated the ballot initiative that says non-violent offenders should not be jailed.

According to an evaluation of the program by University of California–Los Angeles from 2004, about 37,000 people entered treatment programs instead of prison in the third year of Proposition 36. About 34 percent completed the program.

UCLA, chosen by the state to conduct evaluations of the program, also published an analysis that found the program saves almost $2,900 on every person sentenced to treatment instead of prison. Savings per offender reached about $5,600 for those who completed treatment.

Drug Policy Alliance plans to lobby the legislature to increase funds for the program, according to a press statement.

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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

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Shreema Mehta is a staff journalist.

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