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Old 04-19-2005, 12:15 PM
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Default Senate bill would dismantle drug treatment effort that works

Posted on Tue, Apr. 19, 2005

Senate bill would dismantle drug treatment effort that works

By Dave Fratello

When voters approved Proposition 36 four years ago, they meant to
reverse a failed drug policy that emphasized punishment over treatment.
Punishing addiction had failed to make a dent in the problem, and
ruined tens of thousands of lives.

But now died-in-the-wool drug warriors, led by prosecutors and
narcotics officers, are trying to undo Proposition 36 in the
Legislature. It's the latest act in an unseemly history of
second-guessing voters and overturning popular initiatives.

Proposition 36 requires drug treatment, not jail or prison, for the
first two non-violent drug possession offenses. Its impact is already

• In 2000, California held 20,116 prison inmates whose most serious
offense was drug possession. Today, 7,337 fewer people are imprisoned
for possession.

• A women's prison was closed, and plans for a new men's prison were
scrapped, saving taxpayers $500 million.

• Lives are being saved. More than 30,000 people enter Proposition 36
drug treatment annually. More than 10,000 successfully completed
treatment the first year. The law is on pace to help 50,000 people
complete treatment in its first five years.

These successes are even more impressive in light of data showing that
Proposition 36 treatment clients are older, and more severely addicted,
than expected. Many are parolees, a group that has been highly
resistant to treatment previously.

Despite this progress, opponents of Proposition 36 never gave up the
fight they lost before voters. They've inspired Sen. Denise Moreno
Ducheny, D-Chula Vista, to introduce SB 803, to radically change
Proposition 36. It limits the number of people eligible for treatment
and makes treatment in jail, not community-based programs, the norm.
Prosecutors and judges could jail clients at the first hint of trouble
during treatment.

Critics say we must rewrite Proposition 36 because too few people are
complying with their Proposition 36 treatment. They're wrong.

Nearly three in four people who enter Proposition 36 treatment (72.2
percent) spend enough time there to receive what researchers call a
``standard dose.'' Even for those who don't finish, treatment pays both
immediate and long-term dividends. During treatment, people are less
likely to use drugs or commit crimes. Afterward, they are further along
in a journey toward recovery.

Proposition 36 compares well with other systems linking treatment and
criminal justice. A state-sponsored evaluation found that 34.4 percent
of the people who began Proposition 36 treatment completed it. The same
study found that 36 percent of all other criminal-justice referrals
completed their treatment. Not much difference.

The state's ``drug court'' system is often held up as a model -- Santa
Clara County's program in particular. In several years before
Proposition 36, drug courts had a 41.8 percent completion rate
statewide -- albeit with a much smaller, handpicked group of drug
offenders. Data show that Proposition 36 clients are more severely
addicted than those in drug court before. Again, there is no striking
difference in success rates.

Sen. Ducheny's bill pushes the mistaken idea that jail can be
treatment, not punishment. But no studies indicate that putting
Proposition 36 treatment clients in jail would improve success rates.
Out of dozens of studies of drug courts in California and elsewhere,
not one shows that jail time keeps clients in treatment. One study
suggests the opposite -- people in two separate drug courts who got
jail time as a ``sanction'' were more likely to fail treatment.

What's worse, the changes in SB 803 destroy the essence of Proposition
36 as a health care-based intervention. If all counties used about the
same amount of jail time as Santa Clara County's drug court does, they
could spend $90 million per year to jail Proposition 36 treatment
clients. Many counties would have to release more serious offenders
from jail to make room. And money would come out of treatment, swinging
the pendulum back to an emphasis on punishment.

What Proposition 36 needs is more money targeted for treatment. The
program works. Now let's expand it so we can save more lives and more
money. The last thing we need is state legislators thwarting the will
of the people by subverting another popular initiative. Given that
Proposition 36 won with 61 percent of the vote, and has delivered on
its promise, any legislator who gets in the way of this progress is
likely to get run over.

DAVE FRATELLO was a co-author of Proposition 36, and managed the
campaign for the measure in 2000. He is political director of the
Campaign for New Drug Policies, based in Santa Monica. He wrote this
article for the Mercury News.


The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is ''What does a woman want?'' S. Freud
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