Pubdate: Mon, 16 Oct 2000
Source: Ventura County Star (CA)
Copyright: 2000, Ventura County Star
Contact:  P.O. Box 6711, Ventura CA 93006
Fax: (805) 650-2950
Author: Tom Kisken


Predicting Proposition 36 would flush away drug-testing and flood the 
probation system with new clients, Ventura County criminal justice leaders 
say they're alarmed the initiative might be galvanizing voters' frustration 
with the status quo.

The proposition would send drug possession offenders into probation and 
treatment instead of jail or prison. It provides $120 million for treatment 
programs and has been pitched as a way to address the core problems of drug 
abuse and save taxpayers the expense of incarcerating abusers.

An August poll showed that 55 percent of the respondents favor the 
initiative -- to the concern of Cal Remington, Ventura County's chief 
probation officer. Last year, the Ventura County Sheriff's Department 
levied 3,139 charges on drug offenses. Though the proposition provides 
exceptions based on criminal past and the specifics of the offense, 
Remington believes too many of the offenders would be diverted to probation.

"My fear is that there are going to be hundreds and hundreds of new people 
coming into the system. It could be thousands," Remington said. "Right now, 
I don't know how we get additional resources."

One impact would be drug testing. Because the proposition does not provide 
any new testing funds, Remington said the increase in clients would swamp 
the budget. There wouldn't be enough money to test everyone.

"The only way to tell how they're doing would be to ask them," said 
Superior Court Judge Barry Klopfer, who heads the county's drug court. "The 
last thing a person wants to do is be truthful about their use."

But the initiative gives more offenders a chance, said Hal Chiprin, a 
51-year-old Ventura resident who served 20 months in prison after being 
arrested on a methamphetamine charge on the Fourth of July several years ago.

Campaigning for the initiative as part of a coalition of friends and family 
members of incarcerated drug offenders, Chiprin said he knows abusers who 
just keep rotating in and out of prison. "This would put someone into 
position where they would get the treatment they need," he said. "What we 
have now is definitely not working."

Others in Ventura County who support the proposition say it's time to 
reform the costly and, in their minds, ineffective battle against drugs. 
They say addiction has to be perceived as a disease, not a crime.

"If you put them into prison, are they going to change?" said Barbara 
Dobrin, a drug and alcohol counselor in Newbury Park, answering her own 
query. "They're going to get worse."

Ask for opinions at an outlet mall and people, only vaguely familiar with 
Proposition 36, talked about the need to give judges discretion in handing 
down sentences but also talked about innovative solutions that go beyond 
simply getting tough on crime.

"I go for decriminalization of nonviolent crimes," said David Morton, a 
Westlake Village electrical engineer. "Three strikes isn't working." 
Klopfer noted that the system already provides probation diversions for 
many offenders. In addition to a program for first-time offenders, the 
county has a drug court program for people with longer records. It has sent 
about 500 people into drug treatment over five years.

About half the people complete the program and about 30 percent of the 
graduates have been arrested for subsequent crime. Comparatively, about 84 
percent of the people who started but didn't complete the court-imposed 
program have been re-arrested.

Klopfer, who worries that Proposition 36 could mean the end of drug court, 
said the program works in part because the judge, attorneys and probation 
officers have a say in determining who is ready for treatment and who 
isn't. The proposition would remove much of that discretion. If a person 
can't stay clean in any of the available treatment programs, the 
proposition allows for a hearing to decide whether probation should be 
revoked. As hammers go, observers said, it's not as big as current law, 
which provides for a more streamlined path to punishment.

"The stick-and-carrot approach, crude though it may be, works," Remington 
said, suggesting the proposition doesn't "provide enough to hold 
(offenders') feet to the fire."

The measure also has drawn opposition from Ventura County Sheriff Bob 
Brooks and Deputy District Attorney Richard Holmes who worry that it will 
be perceived as a get-out-of-jail free card.

"It's a simplistic solution and we're a country famous for simplistic 
solutions," Holmes said. Leaders of private drug and alcohol treatment 
programs in Ventura County suggested that if the proposition passes, its 
success will be largely determined by incentive power.

If participants believe that they'll end up in jail if they don't stay 
clean, the measure has a good chance at working. But if people think the 
law insulates them from prison, they'll probably fail treatment.

"You can't just put in your time like at traffic school," said Dr. Dave 
Lewis, an addiction specialist and chief of staff at Anacapa Hospital in 
Port Hueneme. "You have to take this seriously."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart