Pubdate: Sat, 04 Nov 2000
Source: Ventura County Star (CA)
Copyright: 2000, Ventura County Star
Contact:  P.O. Box 6711, Ventura CA 93006
Fax: (805) 650-2950
Bookmark: For Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act items:


PROP. 36: It's time to try treatment, rather than automatic 
incarceration, for minor offenders.

Over the past decade, America's war on drugs has accomplished few of 
its goals. Drug use has not diminished. Drug availability has not 
diminished. Drugs such as heroin and cocaine are now cheaper and more 
pure than before the drug war was launched. Efforts to quash 
production in South and Central America have merely moved it from one 
country to another, and have become increasingly militarized.

The drug war has, however, had one unambiguous consequence:It has 
stuffed the nation's jails and prisons with men and women convicted 
of possessing relatively modest quantities of drugs for personal use. 
In California, more than 12 percent of the prison population, nearly 
20,000 convicts, is incarcerated for simple drug possession, at an 
average annual cost of more than $23,000 per inmate.

Offered virtually nothing in the way of treatment or rehabilitation, 
these offenders will emerge from custody with their addictions 
intact, and likely will go on to re-offend. According to the 
Department of Corrections, nearly half of the more than 60,000 parole 
violators in the state each year are returned to custody because of 
drug possession.

Given this record of costly failure, it's time to try something new. 
Proposition 36 represents a welcome departure from the wasteful and 
ineffective policies that prevail today, and the Star recommends a 
Yes vote.

The initiative would require probation and enrollment in a 
state-licensed drug-treatment program for many of those convicted of 
possession or use of controlled substances. It authorizes $120 
million to be budgeted each year through 2006 to help counties cope 
with the cost of treatment, training, counseling and probation 
supervision. In subsequent years, the Legislature would set the 
funding level.

The diversion from incarceration into treatment would not apply to 
those convicted of using a firearm during the crime, parole violators 
with a previous conviction for a serious or violent crime, and most 
third-strike offenders. It also would not apply in cases involving 
drug sale or production.

The initiative is narrowly drawn to address only the most minor of 
drug crimes: simple possession or use by nonviolent offenders. Yet 
despite being applicable to only this restricted class of criminals, 
the initiative promises a huge savings -- in both human and financial 

According to the Legislative Analyst, Proposition 36 would save the 
state $200 million to $250 million annually in prison operations 
costs, reduce parole costs by another $25 million a year, and would 
enable the state to avoid $450 million to $550 million in one-time 
prison construction costs. Local agencies would also save money, 
through reduced expenditures for jail operations, trial court 
operation, prosecution and public defenders.

Even after subtracting the $120 million in new aid to counties, the 
state stands to save $100 million to $150 million a year, with local 
savings of at least $40 million statewide.

The savings cannot be reckoned only in monetary terms. As many as 
24,000 offenders a year would be given a chance at treatment and 
rehabilitation, rather than being locked up. Some will no doubt fail 
and end up behind bars again. But many of them --mothers and fathers, 
potentially productive workers -- will succeed, and will then be able 
to assume a valuable role in their families and in society.

We've tried locking up drug offenders, and all we've accomplished is 
to pack our prisons. It's time to try attacking the drug problem 
itself, rather than just the symptoms. That means treatment, not just 
incarceration. Proposition 36 is a careful and promising step in that 
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MAP posted-by: Josh Sutcliffe