Pubdate: Mon,  1 Jul 2002
Source: Fresno Bee, The (CA)
Copyright: 2002 The Fresno Bee
Author: Jim Davis


A Year After Its Enactment, Proposition 36 Stirs Debate On Potential For 
Crime And Abusers' Rate Of Attendance

For the past year, California has treated drug offenders more like patients 
than criminals, sentencing offenders to drug treatment instead of jail.

Under Proposition 36, enacted one year ago today, thousands of people in 
California -- and hundreds in the Central Valley -- have received drug 
treatment that they may never have had access to before.

"There have been some wonderful successes under Prop. 36," said Whitney 
Taylor of the Drug Policy Alliance in Sacramento.

But the voter-approved initiative remains controversial.

About one out of every three people sentenced to drug treatment fails to 
even go to one session. And many go only sporadically, missing sessions and 
skipping drug testing.

"If a third are not even bothering to show up, it doesn't sound like a 
successful program," said Madera County Judge John DeGroot.

Probation officials worry about someone out of jail who commits a more 
serious crime, a burglary or robbery or abuse of a child. In 1999, 
4-year-old Dustin Haaland was killed by his father after a binge on 

"Drug abuse affects more than just the person using," said Joy Thompson, a 
Fresno County probation services manager.

Passed by voters in November 1999, Prop. 36 sends many first- and 
second-time drug offenders who are arrested on misdemeanor charges or 
felony possession charges to treatment.

Those arrested are sent to treatment based on their needs: Someone 
experimenting with drugs may get sent to drug-education classes, while 
someone addicted for years could be sent to a residential treatment center.

California was only the second state to make such a change, following 
Arizona. Other voter initiatives are on the ballot this fall for Michigan, 
Ohio and the District of Columbia.

Fresno County sentenced 1,173 people under the law in the first year.

In Tulare County, about 1,200 people were sentenced. Kings County saw 324 
people sentenced as of three weeks ago, its most recent count. In Madera 
County, 150 people have been sentenced under the new law.

One of the biggest surprises in the first year is how heavily addicted the 
offenders have been.

"We are clearly getting folks who have been struggling with addiction 
issues for a long, long time," said Mary Anne Ford Sherman, Kings County 
deputy mental health director. "Their resistance is higher -- their no-show 
rate is higher."

The authors of Prop. 36 anticipated that 15% of the people would need to be 
housed in residential treatment centers. Counties across the state are 
sending about 20% to 30% of the offenders to the centers.

Bill Zimmerman, campaign director for the measure, believes the numbers 
will decrease as more people get treatment and eventually get off drugs.

"It's actually a good thing that these people are receiving treatment and 
will have a chance for the first time in their lives to break out of the 
cycle," Zimmerman said.

But will the cycle be broken if people fail to show up for treatment?

In Madera County, about 50 people of the first 150 were sentenced under 
court to Prop. 36 and then didn't go to drug treatment programs.

"Some people kind of disappeared," said Janice Melton, Madera County mental 
health and drug and alcohol director.

Other counties across the state are seeing similar numbers.

Taylor and Zimmerman say the no-shows are caused by a variety of factors. 
People may have child-care issues. Or people who live in rural counties 
such as many in the Central Valley may not be able to get to sessions 
because they've lost their drivers licenses.

And some just won't go. Each county needs to work with these people to make 
sure offenders get into treatment, Taylor and Zimmerman said.

Dennis Koch, a staff analyst for Fresno County's Human Services System, 
said critics are making too much of the no-show rate. He said that chronic 
health conditions such as diabetes have a high rate of people who don't 
follow doctor's orders.

"I know sometimes that number gets skewed and we focus on the fact that 
some people don't show," Koch said. "It's a health condition, and health 
conditions deal with patient compliance."

People addicted to drugs will fail at drug treatment, said Jenniffer 
Hosler, division manager of prevention services of the Tulare Health and 
Human Services Agency.

"It's sort of the problem," Hosler said. "You relapse -- it's not surprising."

But probation department officials worry about the people who get sentenced 
under Prop. 36, fail to appear for drug treatment and then commit other 
crimes, said Thompson of Fresno County.

"We know that it takes a few times for people before they become serious 
about getting clean and sober," Thompson said. "And we're working in a 
collaborative nature with all the other agencies, but our No. 1 mission is 
of course community safety."

With a year of experience under their belts, many county officials still 
hold high hopes for the program and believe that minor tinkering can solve 
many of the problems.

"I think this coming year is going to be marvelous," said Sherman of Kings 

In Madera County, officials are trying to model Prop. 36 somewhat after the 
county's successful drug court, requiring offenders to come back to court 
every six weeks. (The drug court in Madera County is actually being lost; a 
three-year grant paid for the drug court, but the grant has ended and the 
county stopped accepting new clients in April.)

Tulare County officials are attempting to follow the lead of one of its 
treatment providers by trying to get drug offenders to buy into the 
treatment programs, Hosler said.

At the assessment stage, they'll try to explain to offenders where they're 
at in the system and what will happen if they fail to go to drug treatment.

"These people are not motivated," Hosler said. "They have a very jaundiced 
eye. They like being high. When you work with that population, you want to 
try to engage them."

Fresno County wants to expand the drug treatment programs available 
including adding a contracted methadone program. (The county has a 
methadone program for women with children, but not others.)

The county also wants to expand services such as job training and mental 
health services to help people get off drugs, Koch said.

"We tried to set up a system that's not just a flash in the pan," Koch 
said. "We want something that's going to work."
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens