Pubdate: Mon, 02 Jul 2001
Source: Fresno Bee, The (CA)
Section: Main News, Pg A1, Infobox
Copyright: 2001 The Fresno Bee
Author: Jim Davis

Fresno County To Embark On Drug-Treatment Plan

Officials Have Received $1.42 Million To Start And Administer Long-Term 
Programs Under Prop. 36

The house looks no different than any other on the street in this southwest 
Fresno neighborhood, except for the large "King of Kings" logo painted on 
the garage door.

This is one of the treatment centers where people sentenced under 
Proposition 36 -- the new law that requires treatment for many drug 
offenders -- will go instead of jail.

And that's a good thing, says Roy Tims, a drug abuser who has spent time in 
jail and who is trying to get his life straight at the center.

Behind bars, Tims would go to substance-abuse classes once a week, but 
mainly, he says, it was just wasted time. At the King of Kings center, Tims 
keeps a journal, he cleans and cooks, and he and the other clients learn to 
deal with life without drugs.

"In jail, you don't get what you get here," Tims said. "It's different. You 
get tools that you can use when you get out of here. In jail, you don't get 

Passed by voters in November, Prop. 36 officially took effect Sunday, and 
the first offenders -- expected primarily to be people charged with 
misdemeanors -- will go to court in Fresno County on Tuesday.

During the past several months, a county task force made up of people from 
the courts and law enforcement and the human-services system have crafted 
guidelines for the county.

"We're going to go along with the spirit of the law," said Bob Freed, an 
associate district attorney who worked on the task force. "Treatment is 
what has been mandated, and treatment is what they're going to get."

Prop. 36 requires first- and second-time drug offenders convicted of 
nonviolent crimes be sentenced to treatment. It affects people arrested on 
misdemeanor drug charges, which usually involve being under the influence 
of drugs, or felony possession charges involving small amounts of drugs.

In Fresno County, officials estimate that 800 to 1,000 people a year will 
fall under Prop. 36.

The county has received $1.49 million from the state to begin administering 
and paying for drug treatment and is expected to receive $2.8 million for 
the 2001-2002 fiscal year to pay for more costs. The county has allocated 
75% of that money for treatment.

The new law is no "get out of jail free" card. It kicks in only after 
conviction; someone could be held in jail for several weeks before that 
takes place.

For example, if someone is arrested on suspicion of felony drug possession, 
he or she could wait in jail for a couple days before arraignment. Even if 
the person pleads guilty at that hearing, the first opportunity to make a 
plea, the Probation Department has 28 days to assess the person's risk to 
the community and file a report with the court. And a judge can require 
that the person remain behind bars during that time, although many people 
arrested on misdemeanor and felony drug charges are released early.

Because of Prop. 36, the county has hired five workers to assess the level 
of addiction for these people.

Treatments will vary based on a person's need. A recreational drug user 
could be sent to education programs, similar to those required of people 
arrested for driving drunk. Someone who is more seriously addicted can be 
sent to a residential program such as one of the King of Kings centers.

People sentenced under Prop. 36 will pay for as much of their treatment as 
possible, said Nancy A. Cisneros, a court commissioner who will oversee the 

"Nobody will be denied treatment who can't pay," Cisneros said.

She said that Prop. 36 will augment two existing treatment options for drug 
offenders -- drug court and deferred entry of judgement.

Whitney A. Taylor, who is with the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation 
and who also worked on the Prop. 36 campaign, said she thinks all the 
systems will mesh.

"We have a variety of ways that we can deal with people who suffer from 
addiction," Taylor said. "The whole point of Proposition 36 is we have to 
stop looking at drug addiction as a crime -- drug addiction is a medical 

Much is still unknown about how Prop. 36 will affect the criminal-justice 

For instance, why would someone arrested on drug charges not gamble on a 
day in court rather than plea bargain? He or she could be acquitted on the 
charges at trial; if not, the person would face only treatment.

That could clog the court systems with minor drug cases, said Freed, who 
has served as a prosecutor for more than 20 years: "That's a possibility -- 
the defense bar doesn't think that's going to happen, but that remains to 
be seen."

Another question is how many people will be sentenced under Prop. 36. 
Statewide, the law is estimated to affect 36,000 people who are arrested or 
on parole each year. And Fresno County has been working with the 
800-to-1,000 estimate. But that's little more than an educated guess, said 
Dennis Koch, a senior substance-abuse specialist who worked on the county 
task force.

Some argue that police officers -- the front line of the justice system -- 
won't arrest people who are under the influence of drugs because the arrest 
won't mean anything.

Others suggest that the pendulum could swing the other way and more arrests 
could be made. The reasoning goes that police now don't arrest many drug 
addicts because it means little more than a short jail stay and paperwork. 
With Prop. 36, police could arrest these people and know they're getting help.

"There's so much that we don't know in terms of what the numbers are going 
to be," Cisneros said. She said she doesn't know how many -- if any -- drug 
offenders will be sentenced Tuesday.

Among the legal arguments still to be worked out is, should people arrested 
before July 1 qualify under Prop. 36 for treatment instead of jail time? 
While that may be debated in other counties, Freed said the Fresno County 
District Attorney's Office isn't going to worry about it.

"It's just not one of those fights that we're going to choose to fight," 
Freed said.

The success of Prop. 36 will depend greatly upon how counties implement it, 
said Bill Zimmerman, campaign director for the measure, who is trying to 
place the same measure on ballots in other states.

He compares San Francisco and Sacramento counties. He said that Sacramento 
County is spending too much of its state money on law enforcement, giving 
35% of the money to its probation department. San Francisco County, on the 
other hand, is only giving 3.5% of its money to its probation department 
and focusing more on treatment.

"Counties like Sacramento have failed to understand that the public, in 
passing Proposition 36, wants these people to be cared for by health 
officials, not by cops," Zimmerman said.

Fresno County was criticized last week by the Lindesmith Center because the 
center didn't think 75% was enough money for treatment, for involving 
criminal-justice professionals too much in oversight and not seeking enough 
community participation, especially from drug users, in drafting the plan.

Others worry whether there is enough money to spread for treatment.

Teresa Alexander, executive director for King of Kings, one of six 
treatment providers contracted with Fresno County, said the program sets 
short-term stays of 30 days for drug offenders.

She said in many cases that's not enough.

"If they're going to send someone in here for 30 days, they're barely at 
the point where they can get up and wash their face and know where they're 
at," Alexander said.

Steven Hirasuna of the Tower Recovery, which will offer education and 
outpatient programs, said he will offer fewer group-therapy sessions than 
what he thinks should be offered.

Still, he said, the county has limited resources and it's probably the best 
solution the county can come up with.

"At the very least, for people who have had no treatment experience, 
they'll get their feet wet and see what it's like and maybe they'll come 
back," he said.

Clients and counselors at the King of Kings center last week said that drug 
treatment does not always work. Client Darryl Ashford, sitting in the back 
yard reading a book, said that drug users have to be ready for treatment.

But counselor Don Walker, who was a drug addict before coming to King of 
Kings more than 16 years ago, said treatment will help. He spent time in 
jails in Fresno, Merced and San Jose, and never learned anything but how to 
get and use more drugs.

"Sending people to jail doesn't help anyone -- it's education that they 
need," Walker said. "Me, myself, being a recovering addict, jail didn't 
teach me anything."


Another Option For Addicts

Proposition 36, approved by voters in November, requires treatment for many 
first- and second-time drug offenders convicted of nonviolent crimes. 
Fresno County already has two other systems that allow for treatment of 
people convicted of drug offenses:

Drug Court mixes treatment with encouragement -- and sometimes punishment 
- -- from the bench, a "nudge from the judge." Court officials can send 
someone to jail for violating the program. But one is just as likely to see 
people clapping for each other or singing "Happy Birthday." Since it 
started in March 1998, about 380 adults have entered the program. So far, 
only 57 have reoffended.

Deferred entry of judgment, for first-time offenders only, allows a judge 
to set aside a conviction if the offender agrees to serve 18 months in 
treatment. More than 1,000 cases are being deferred right now.

Prop. 36 serves as a middle ground. It allows people who have had prior 
drug convictions to get treatment, and it also allows more people to be 
treated than Drug Court. It also comes with money to pay for some treatment.
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