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: Timm Herdt


Say the words "war on drugs" in public, and the best reaction you can hope 
to get is a smirk, Dave Fratello said.

"Most people believe the war on drugs has failed miserably," Fratello said. 
"It's almost a laughingstock."

Fratello is the campaign manager for Proposition 36, the November ballot 
measure that would change the venue of part of the war -- taking it out of 
the criminal setting of courtrooms and prison cells and moving it to a 
clinical setting of counseling offices and treatment centers.

Proposition 36 would require that nonviolent drug offenders -- those 
convicted of either possessing, transporting or being under the influence 
of illegal drugs -- be sentenced to probation instead of jail. It would set 
aside $120 million a year to fund treatment programs.

Supporters call it a sea change in the way the state attacks drug 
addiction, redefining it as a health problem instead of a criminal problem. 
The result, they say, will be to get addicts off drugs and out of jails and 

Opponents, led by district attorneys, judges and narcotics officers, 
acknowledge the importance of stepped-up treatment programs but say 
Proposition 36 does not provide the hammer of jail time necessary to 
motivate addicts to stay clean.

"Without the consequence of short-term incarceration, addicts within our 
courts have no incentive to stay in treatment and will continue to use 
drugs," said Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Stephen Manley, 
president of the state Association of Drug Court Professionals.

Opponents, recognizing public frustration over the failures of the drug war 
and acknowledging poll numbers that show support for Proposition 36, do not 
argue against the need for treatment alternatives. Rather, they say that 
drug courts already provide that option -- but with safeguards.

Proposition 36 supporters say the drug courts are pitifully inadequate, 
reaching less than 5 percent of drug-using offenders. Drug courts fall 
short, they say, because underfunded treatment programs are not sufficient 
to meet the need, DAs are too grudging in their participation, and the 
rules do not allow for methadone treatment for heroin addicts.

They cite Ventura County as an example of the inadequacy of drug courts, 
noting that at one point this summer, only 18 people were enrolled in the 
county's drug court.

Here's what Proposition 36 would do:

Beginning July 1, 2001, anyone convicted of a nonviolent drug crime would 
receive probation. The conditions must include drug treatment and also may 
include family counseling, literacy and vocational training, and community 

If the judge finds that the individual has sufficient financial resources, 
he or she can be ordered to pay all or part of the treatment costs. 
Treatment can be required for up to a year, with six additional months of 

If the treatment provider informs the court that the person is unamenable 
to treatment, probation can be revoked and a jail sentence of up to one 
year can be imposed.

Additionally, parolees -- provided they were not originally convicted of a 
serious or violent crime -- could not be sent back to prison just because 
of a nonviolent drug offense. They would instead be ordered to undergo 

The treatment provision would not apply to those arrested on drug charges 
while also using a firearm or who are convicted of another felony or injure 
another person in connection with the offense. Also ineligible would be 
anyone who had been convicted of a serious or violent felony within five 
years of the drug offense.

An analysis by the independent Criminal Justice Legal Foundation opined 
that mandatory probation casts too wide a net and "will waste resources on 
undeserving participants at the expense of public safety."

Wrote attorney Charles Hobson: "The threat of real punishment is too remote 
under this plan."

Proposition 36 was placed on the ballot and is financially supported by 
three wealthy businessmen committed to drug-policy reform.

Financier George Soros of New York, Ohio businessman Peter Lewis and 
Phoenix CEO John Sperling have each contributed slightly more than $1 
million to the campaign.

Soros also was the driving force behind the successful medical marijuana 
initiative in 1996 and an Arizona ballot measure similar to Proposition 36.

The Arizona measure passed by a 2-1 margin. After its first year of 
operation, the state Supreme Court issued a grade card on the program that 
found 61 percent of probationers had successfully completed treatment and 
did not commit new crimes. The court estimated the savings to the state of 
diverting drug offenders from prison at $2.6 million.

The Legislative Analysts' Office estimates that after several years of 
implementation, Proposition 36 would save California taxpayers between $100 
million and $150 million annually in prison operation costs and a one-time 
savings of about $500 million in deferred or avoided prison construction costs.

According to Department of Corrections statistics, there were 19,753 
inmates -- or 12.3 percent of the total -- serving time in state prison for 
possession of illegal drugs.

Proposition 36 is endorsed by the California Nurses Association, Republican 
U.S. Senate candidate Tom Campbell, a handful of Democratic state 
legislators and the Mental Health Association of California.

Opponents include the state District Attorneys Association, the prison 
guards union, the Chamber of Commerce and the state Republican Party. The 
largest contributors to the opposition campaign are Stockton developer Art 
Spanos and the Correctional Peace Officers Association.

As of Sept. 30, supporters enjoyed a fund-raising advantage of $3.35 
million to $215,000.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens