Pubdate: Sun, 04 Feb 2001
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2001 Los Angeles Times
Contact:  Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, CA 90053
Fax: (213) 237-7679
Author: Denise Carson
Note: News from Venice in the Times Community Newspapers
Bookmark: (Substance Abuse and Crime
Prevention Act)


Drug-Treatment Programs Like Phoenix House In Venice Beach Prepare For
Influx Of Users With Proposition 36 Going Into Effect This Summer

Each of the many times during the last two decades that William Hopper
was released from a state penitentiary in Norco, he jumped on a bus
and went directly to MacArthur Park in Los Angeles.

The moment the doors slapped shut, he sought out the nearest crack
dealer and emptied his pockets of his last few crumpled dollars to get

Like many drug addicts who cycle in and out of the criminal justice
system, Hopper would remain high and homeless until he was

Six weeks ago, Hopper, 50, was released from prison again. This time,
he caught a bus heading to Venice Beach. He spotted a few drug dealers
lurking in the colorful boardwalk crowds but passed them by.

Instead, Hopper wiped the sweat off his brow as he walked to his final
destination: Phoenix House, an in-house drug-treatment center on the
Venice Beach boardwalk.

It's nonviolent drug offenders, like Hopper, who will be creating
traffic at Phoenix House as well as other drug-treatment centers and
therapeutic communities across state when Proposition 36 takes effect
in July. But unlike Hopper, they won't necessarily go to prison first.

Proposition 36, approved by 60% of voters in the Nov. 4 election,
marks a significant shift in drug policy by sending nonviolent drug
offenders to treatment rather than jail. Three-time drug offenders,
however, can be incarcerated.

The initiative is focused on providing outpatient treatment, including
therapy classes and drug education to help drug users fight their addictions.

As a result, a great deal of resources and funding will be focused on
outpatient treatment programs and existing inpatient programs like
Phoenix House could be significantly affected.

The Venice Beach facility is part of a nationwide program that
rehabilitates people with drug addictions and receives 90% of its
funding from federal, state and county sources.

Phoenix House is one of about 130 drug-treatment centers in Los
Angeles County that are just beginning to devise plans on how to deal
with the expected influx of drug offenders entering their care
directly upon their convictions.

"This whole premise of 'lock them up and throw away the key' is not
solving the problem," said Peter Kerr, a spokesman for the Phoenix
House. "It's not economical."

Each year, Proposition 36 is expected to divert an estimated 20,000
nonviolent drug users in Los Angeles County away from state prisons
and into treatment programs.

It calls for $120 million in state funds to be set aside each year for
treatment statewide and is expected to save as much as $150 million a
year in prison operation costs and perhaps $500 million in one-time
prison construction costs.

The law is predicted to save an additional $40 million a year in
county jail costs, although it is expected to increase the Probation
Department's budget.

Not surprisingly, Proposition 36 has many critics.

While treatment gives drug offenders the tools to work toward stable
and productive lives and may reduce recidivism rates, law enforcement
officials say there must be consequences for breaking the law. They
say education, treatment and law enforcement must work together to
fight drug addiction.

Furthermore, law enforcement officials say Proposition 36 will
dramatically change the face of the criminal justice system, affecting
everything from the courts and probation offices to officers out on
the streets.

"To the casual observer, it is a no-nonsense approach to treatment in
lieu of not going to jail," said sheriff's Lt. Cmdr. Terry McCarty of
Biscailuz Recovery Center in East Los Angeles, which handles all of
the cases coming out of the county drug courts.

"But the path to implementation has yet to be resolved. There is going
to be a significant affect on the probation office. Generally, a
misdemeanor never made it into the system."

Even Phoenix House, one of the nation's largest drug-treatment
organizations, came out against Proposition 36 in October, saying the
treatment would not be intensive enough to cure serious drug problems.

"These big drug consumers are like glowing coals burning their way
through the social-services system and then the criminal justice
system," said Elizabeth Stanley Salazar, vice president of Phoenix
House of California, which oversees five in-prison programs, as well
as numerous adolescent academies and adult inpatient programs
throughout the region.

Phoenix House officials said it takes at least 90 days of being off
drugs for addicts to begin thinking clearly and for the last traces of
the drug to get out of their system.

But the agency's methodology has centered around long-term,
residential treatment for the last 30 years, which runs contrary to
the outpatient care advocated by Proposition 36, in which people being
treated are not in supervised care 24 hours a day.

"We are in the business of long-term care," Salazar said. "We target
the most socially disordered and help them recapture their lives."

She said Phoenix House is analyzing its outpatient services, which
will provide drug offenders with education, vocational skills and drug
therapy to help them lead clean lives.

Salazar said a small outpatient program has been created in Los
Angeles, with slots for 50 people that usually are full. The service
will have to be beefed up when Proposition 36 goes into effect, she

Salazar is a member of the Proposition 36 Implementation Task Force, a
multiagency task force comprised of judges, law enforcement officials
and other drug-treatment service providers, who are working to create
a plan on how to enact the initiative in Los Angeles County. The task
force has met just once Jan. 18.

Phoenix House officials also say they opposed Proposition 36 because
in many cases it is the threat of jail that forces drug users to get
involved in serious drug treatment.

For some Phoenix House patients, the treatment seems to work --

"I was an unmanageable human being since I was 15 years old," said
Stephen Hawkins, 42, a resident for seven weeks at Phoenix House in
Venice Beach. "My history consists of penal institutions."

Hawkins said he has been in and out of prison for drug-related crimes
for more than two decades. Prison often exacerbates addictions because
it is laden with drugs, he said.

"Those 30-day drug programs just sober you up and throw you back out
on the streets," he said.

"We need places like this that give us structure, self-help tools, and
they teach us how to interact with each other. These are normal
things, but we don't do this on the streets or in prison."

Hawkins and other residents said the coed Venice Beach house is a safe
place, but it is no vacation resort.

Each of the 50 residents must do daily chores. And where each stands
on the totem pole on the road to recovery is marked by his or her
daily duties, from trash detail to those who can work an out-of-house

The house is organized to incorporate structure in the residents'
daily lives. Every day, the men and women must report to their work
stations on time. Their bedrooms are inspected and must be immaculate.
Everyone in the house sits down and eats three meals a day together.

For many of the residents, sitting at the dinner table is an
unfamiliar experience.

"I have a new family here," said Javier Sanchez, 38, a four-week

"And I now have my family back at home," he said, grinning ear to ear
while showing a picture of his children with whom he has reconnected
since he has been sober.

Sanchez said after being in and out of county jail for various drug
offenses about 10 times, his probation officer finally directed him to
a treatment program, an option he initially declined.

Now he hopes with the passage of Proposition 36 that the younger
generation in his Echo Park neighborhood will have the opportunity
early in life to change.

Under Proposition 36, Sanchez would have entered a place like Phoenix
House some 10 years ago after his first drug offense.

He said prison only exacerbated his drug use.

Each time the multiple drug offender was released from prison, he said
he was worse off then when he went in.

"I wish it [Proposition 36] would have been out back then," Sanchez
said. "I would have been exposed to this place before I reached bottom."

Hopper abandoned his family in 1985 after selling all the food in the
refrigerator and the toys that once belonged to his two daughters.
After two decades of self-destruction and incarceration, he is trying
to reconstruct his life.

"The hardest thing I'll ever do is look to myself to help me get off
these drugs," Hopper said during a group therapy session.

"In prison, we don't have to do anything. But here we learned as hard
as we go after our drugs is as hard as we need to go after our recovery."

Shavonn Schock, 18, who has been drug-free for five months, sits in
the group nodding her head in agreement with Hopper's comment.

She said she started doing drugs in her former neighborhood of
Cerritos when she was just 10 and that her drug of choice was crystal

Six months ago, she was arrested for selling drugs and, because of her
age, was given the option of treatment or jail.

When Schock arrived at Phoenix House, she battled continuously with
thoughts of using drugs. While those powerful thoughts have
diminished, she fears the outside world.

Schock now works at an out-of-the-house job in a Venice coffee shop.
Every time she walks out the front door, she meets temptation. But
each day she comes back to Phoenix House sober is a triumph.

Last week, she opened a bank account with the help of one of the
Phoenix House counselors. She has created for herself another chance
at a normal life, but it won't be easy.

"Escaping through dope is how we have lived our lives," Schock said as
she and the others headed out the door to watch the sun set on the
Pacific Ocean while sharing a pack of cigarettes.

"It's not our darkness, but it's the light that scares us most."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager