Pubdate: Thu, 16 Aug 2001
Source: Fresno Bee, The (CA)
Copyright: 2001 The Fresno Bee
Author: Jim Davis, The Fresno Bee
(Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act)


Drug Offenders Given Treatment Rather Than Jail.

The first weeks of a controversial new California law that requires 
treatment instead of prison time for drug offenders yielded few surprises 
in Fresno County.

About 80 people were assessed in July to be sentenced under
Proposition 36, the initiative approved by voters in November. That is
slightly higher than estimated.

"I'm real pleased with the groundwork we laid and the work we did
beforehand," said Nancy Cisneros, a court commissioner who is
overseeing the court process. "We moved into this and we're getting
people into treatment, which is the purpose of the law."

Susan Thompson, a county administrative support officer who
spearheaded the effort to implement the law, said that it's still
early in the new law to make wide assessments.

Around the Valley, Tulare County saw fewer people in the first month
than county officials had expected. Madera County had no one sentenced
under Prop. 36 in the first month while similar-sized Kings County has
had 33 sentenced as of last Friday.

Prop. 36 requires first- and second-time drug offenders convicted of
nonviolent crimes to 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. The measure went into effect July 1.

First, people are assessed to determine their level of addiction and
what type of care is needed. A recreational drug user could be sent to
education programs, similar to those required of people arrested for
drunken driving. Someone who is more seriously addicted can be sent to
a residential program.

One of the big question marks was whether the county would have enough
money to administer and pay for treatment. The state provided $1.49
million for the start-up of the program and another $2.975 million
will be provided to run it this fiscal year. People sentenced under
Prop. 36 will pay for as much of their treatment as possible.

"It's early, it's really early in the process to be making
predictions, but we think we're going to be OK in terms of the
dollars," Thompson said.

Thompson said the county is learning a lot about the population from
the first several weeks. For instance, the county found that 40% of
the people assessed needed job assistance.

"It means that they don't have jobs or they don't have jobs they can
support themselves with," Thompson said. "We didn't know there would
be that many."

One of the first people who went through vocational assistance was
unemployed, but had job skills and a prepared resume. That woman was
placed in a job at a lawyer's office, Thompson said.

In Tulare County, health officials have seen fewer people than
expected. About 75 people went through the process in July; the county
had estimated 1,600 would go through annually, said Perry Rickard of
the Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency.

One of the concerns in Tulare County was whether there would be a rush
of individuals sent to the treatment providers, but it's actually
turned out to be manageable, he said.

"It's really an interesting process," Rickard said. "It'll be
fascinating to see how it plays out and see if it's a success and does
what the voters wanted."

Tulare County will be given about $1.3 million in state funds, but
also has about $500,000 rolled over from last year.

In Madera County, no one was sentenced under Prop. 36 in the first
month, said Janice Melton, the county alcohol and drug administrator.
Madera County was given more than $500,000 to run the program this
fiscal year.

"It hasn't started yet because of the time it takes to get things
through the court system and state parole system," Melton said.

Melton noted that the county does have a drug court, which had several
people admitted into the program during July.

In Kings County, 33 people have been assessed as of last Friday, said
Mary Anne Ford Sherman, deputy mental health director and alcohol and
other drug program administrator. Kings County doesn't have a drug

That's a little bit high; county officials estimated 235 people would
be sentenced under the new law. But Ford Sherman said that the numbers
have started to slow. The county was given $478,000 this fiscal year
by the state to run.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake