Pubdate: Wed, 06 Sep 2006
Source: East Bay Express (CA)
Section: Feature Article
Copyright: 2006 Village Voice Media
Author: Kara Platoni
Cited: Drug Policy Alliance
Cited: Proposition 36
Referenced: Evaluation of the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention 
Bookmark: (Prop. 36)
Bookmark: (Treatment)
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)
Bookmark: (Crime Policy - United States)


Prop. 36 Has Driven Thousands of Hard-Core Drug Addicts Away From 
Prison and into Treatment, but Backers Worry That Recent Changes to 
the Program Could Stifle Its Success.

"I should have been killed, if it wasn't for the airbag," she 
whispers, so as not to disturb the court session. Bert Gabriel, her 
brassy-haired, grandmotherly case manager, dispassionately surveys 
her client's mottled arms. Gabriel knows that for this woman to be in 
court today, she had to survive a lot more than a car crash -- she 
had to overcome a twenty-year heroin habit. Nevertheless, today she's 
sober and ready to graduate from Proposition 36.

It's been five years since the highly experimental ballot initiative 
went into effect, and long-shot recovery processes like this one 
began to unfold across the state. Under Prop. 36, judges must let 
nonviolent drug offenders choose treatment as an alternative to jail 
time. It's administered differently county by county, but generally 
works as it does in this Contra Costa County courtroom: People who 
choose treatment are assigned a case manager, a probation officer, 
and a treatment program, and must report to all three. If they 
complete treatment and probation, their charges may be expunged. If 
they mess up -- skipping meetings, testing dirty, going AWOL -- they 
can be arrested and sent back to court. Three violations mean they're 
booted from the program and must serve their time behind bars. "Very 
rarely do we see somebody zoom right on through" without accruing any 
violations, Gabriel says.

Judge Joni Hiramoto seems to be thinking along these lines when the 
woman with the bruises steps up to be congratulated. "I remember I 
gave you a last chance," the judge recalls.

"You gave me more than one," the woman says humbly.

The judge softens. "You were a good person for me to give more than 
one chance to," she says.

"Way to go," Gabriel mouths from the back of the room.

But while several Prop. 36 clients graduate today, others are warned 
they're running out of chances. Then there's the woman with the fuzzy 
blonde hair and scrunched face, clinging to the window slats of "the 
box," a Plexiglas holding chamber for defendants in custody. Gabriel 
and her colleagues had lined up treatment for her three times, but 
she'd always disappeared, so today she officially bombs out of the 
program. The judge gives her 180 days in county jail, and two more 
years of court probation. The woman seems neither surprised nor upset 
to be heading back to jail.

It's this disparity of outcomes that has fueled a recent dust-up over 
whether the experiment is working or is in need of tough-love 
reforms. Its supporters and critics agree it has reduced drug-related 
incarcerations, saving taxpayers money -- as much as $1.3 billion by 
some estimates -- and has exposed an unprecedented number of drug 
offenders to treatment, roughly 175,000 so far, many for the first 
time. Yet experts remain deeply divided over how to interpret the 
program's attrition rate. Only about two-thirds of the people who 
accept Prop. 36 in court ever show up for treatment, and of those, 
only a third complete it.

This seemingly high drop-out rate may be due in part to the fact that 
Prop. 36 was created with lightweight users in mind, but ended up 
serving a much more hard-core population than its backers 
anticipated. Furthermore, drug offenders, hardly a population known 
for keeping appointments, are responsible for getting themselves from 
courtroom to clinic. Finally, addiction, by its very nature, is a 
chronic, relapsing condition. Prop. 36's supporters say a one-third 
completion rate is typical for rehab. What's most important, they 
say, is that the measure gives all low-level drug offenders access to 
court-ordered treatment. The initiative's critics, however, complain 
that Prop. 36 is all carrot and no stick.

The California legislature recently agreed, and this past July, days 
after the initiative's fifth anniversary, Governor Schwarzenegger 
signed a revisions package that, among other changes, lets judges 
impose short jail sentences for treatment violations, theoretically 
motivating addicts to comply with treatment. The initiative's 
supporters have fought back fiercely. Led by the Berkeley office of 
the Drug Policy Alliance, the nonprofit that crafted Prop. 36, they 
say so-called "flash incarceration" violates the no-jail-time promise 
Californians voted for, and will only stymie addicts struggling 
toward recovery. The day after the bill became law, the group won a 
temporary restraining order blocking it.

On September 14, an Alameda County Superior Court judge will decide 
whether the experiment will continue as it began.

Supporters and detractors of Prop. 36 tend to start from the same 
premise: Without treatment, addicts trudge endlessly through the 
legal system's revolving door.

The initiative originated in the late '90s when coauthor Daniel 
Abrahamson, who directs legal affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, 
was looking for a way to quell the prison incarceration rate for drug 
offenses, which quadrupled between 1988 and 2000. In the '90s, 
California went on a prison-building binge, with 21 new facilities. 
But while locking people up and busting street-corner dealers made it 
look as if the government was winning the war on drugs, Abrahamson 
believed it was merely going after an easy target while ignoring the 
larger problem. "It's a vicious cycle of people having untreated 
substance abuse problems, getting arrested and sent to jail or 
prison, and coming out worse than they went in," he says. "Nobody was 
asking the harder questions: 'Should we be doing this in the first 
place? What's the longer-term consequences?'"

Among the most obvious consequences was the price tag. It costs 
roughly $34,000 a year to lock up someone in California, more than a 
year's tuition at Harvard. Abrahamson says it costs about $3,300 to 
provide a course of drug treatment.

Then there was the issue of how incarceration affects people's lives. 
"It's sort of like a social death," Abrahamson says -- it separates 
families, keeps people from working, and if jailhouse treatment isn't 
available, prison can exacerbate addiction or the mental health 
problems that may accompany it. Afterwards, people convicted of 
drug-rela7ted felonies may have difficulty finding work, or become 
ineligible for federal welfare, housing, and college programs. 
Arguably, such restrictions propel offenders back toward drugs and crime.

Abrahamson's vision was to shift resources from jails and criminal 
justice into community-based treatment, since getting people off 
drugs would be a cheaper and longer-lasting solution to drug crime. 
The idea wasn't totally new -- Arizona passed a similar ballot 
initiative in 1996 -- but it was still relatively untested. 
Abrahamson and his colleagues didn't think the governor would buy 
their proposal, so they instead targeted the November 2000 ballot. It 
took them nearly sixty drafts to nail down the specifics: The program 
would be offered only to nonviolent drug offenders (usually people 
popped for possession) who had served no time for three-strikes-type 
crimes within the prior five years. It would authorize up to one year 
of treatment and six months of follow-up, and since relapses are to 
be expected, participants would get three chances to get clean. 
Treatment providers were to respond to relapses by stepping up the 
intensity of treatment or offering time in detox programs.

But the authors were blindsided when their fiercest opposition came 
not from cops or prison guards, but from an institution they'd 
considered a natural ally: the drug courts.

If Abrahamson has a local rival on the Prop. 36 question, she'd be 
Judge Peggy Hora. In the 1990s, Hora led the campaign to establish 
drug courts, the legal model that preceded Prop. 36 in many counties, 
including Alameda and Contra Costa. She, too, was tired of seeing 
drug addicts stuck in the revolving door. After being elected to the 
bench in 1984, she says, "I spent my first year doing what I thought 
I was supposed to do, which was sending people to jail. I'd tell 
them, 'Don't use drugs anymore,' or 'Don't use alcohol,' and much to 
my surprise, they came back drinking and using."

Hora took classes on chemical dependency, and came to see addiction 
as a chronic medical condition rather than a moral failing a judge's 
admonition might fix. "I started saying, 'Holy mackerel, I can spend 
the next twenty years of my life engaging in futile acts or try to 
make some changes around here,'" she recalls.

Drug courts were conceived as a humane alternative to straight 
punishment in which judges work intensively with drug offenders, 
shepherding them through rehab and offering them other services like 
job training and mental health care. In return, charges may be 
reduced or dismissed. Hora chaired the committee that established 
Alameda County's drug courts in 1991 -- the state's first and the 
nation's second -- and ran the Hayward branch from 1998 until her 
retirement this year.

Despite their similar goals, the drug courts and Prop. 36 differ on 
crucial details. Drug court judges can react immediately to treatment 
infractions with sanctions including fines, community service, and 
jail time. They also act as the central figure overseeing an 
individual's progress, whereas most decisions under Prop. 36 are made 
by treatment providers. And while drug courts can take in a wider 
range of offenders than Prop. 36, their reach is much smaller. Not 
all counties have one; in California, adult criminal drug courts 
serve an estimated 9,000 to 10,000 drug offenders annually. Prop. 36 
is available statewide and serves about 36,000.

 From the beginning, Hora and others argued that the new measure 
would displace a working system with a much weaker one. They worried 
that the promise of no jail time would strip judges of leverage 
needed to keep people in treatment. Without that proverbial stick, 
they argued, it could take a long time to get AWOL drug offenders 
back into the program, undercutting their shot at sobriety. "We know 
the longer you can keep someone in treatment, the better off they'll 
be," Hora says. "You don't give them a chance to spiral out of 
control -- you snap them back immediately and say, 'What's going on?'"

She also feared the measure would lessen judges' flexibility; for 
example, banning people from the program after three failures would 
hamstring judges inclined to be lenient. "How can people who consider 
themselves progressive adopt a three-strikes scheme?" Hora demands. 
"You know how many strikes people get in drug court? Damn near as 
many as they need."

But Prop. 36's creators felt the courts didn't go far enough. "The 
two problems that we have with the drug courts is that they were 
thinking small, county by county," says coauthor Dave Fratello, a 
consultant to the Drug Policy Alliance. "They never tried to 
implement a huge statewide system. And because they grew out of 
collaboration with prosecutors and cops and they are themselves 
mostly judges, they're still stuck in a punishment mind-set when push 
comes to shove."

The public seemed to agree. Prop. 36 passed with 61 percent of the 
vote, and in July 2001, the grand experiment got under way.

By that time, Terri Gengras' meth addiction had begun to wear her 
down. The tiny, fast-talking woman with pale green eyes had used the 
drug daily since age fourteen, starting one weekend when she ran away 
from her west Pittsburg home to hang out with what she now calls the 
wrong crowd. "They had offered it to me numbers of times and I had 
turned it down every time," she says. "Then finally one day I was 
like, 'You know what? Screw it. I want to try it.' I smoked it and I 
knew right there that I was in trouble."

Gengras never finished high school. She never really worked. Her 
boyfriends supported her and supplied her with drugs. She was a gaunt 
105 pounds, but felt gorgeous. She loved being part of the secret 
meth in-crowd that was burgeoning as the drug swept Contra Costa 
County. "It gives you a sense of belonging," she says. "We always had 
someone to lean on because it's such a large clique that you always 
feel welcome. In a weird sense, you feel superiority to some of them 
because you haven't stooped to the level that they have to get their drugs."

By the time Gengras was twenty, she was dealing. She liked the danger 
of making deliveries, of feeling like an outlaw. She did 444 days in 
jail in two years without breaking her stride. "It was a vacation," 
she recalls. "It was an opportunity for me to clean up, get some 
sleep, get some weight on, before I started the next run. You ran 
into all the old friends that you haven't seen in months because 
they've been in jail. I mean, it was kind of reunion-ish, almost."

Jail didn't dampen her habit at all. "As soon as I got out, before I 
left the parking lot, I was getting high again," she says. "I would 
have one of my drug friends come pick me up and that would be that."

She became pregnant with twins about the time Prop. 36 passed. Then 
26, Gengras made an effort to clean up, ratcheting down her use to 
just weed. She married her kids' father and moved out of town. Yet 
once the twins were born, she returned to her speed habit. "It was 
really rough," she says. "I ended up leaving my husband and trying to 
survive, living in motels and everything, selling drugs, still with 
my children."

This time Gengras wasn't enjoying it. As a parent, she tried to hold 
down a job, and didn't want to go back to jail. Her drug use had left 
her emotionally numb, and she felt guilty for being "absent even when 
I was right there" with her kids. The outlaw life had lost its 
luster. "You get sick and tired of running," she says. "You get sick 
and tired of looking over your shoulder watching for cops." So next 
time she got arrested, the court offered her Prop. 36 and Gengras 
accepted, even though she had no real intention of getting clean. "It 
was just another avenue for me to stay out of jail, some other way 
for me to scam the system," she says.

During her first six weeks at a Concord outpatient treatment center, 
Gengras used meth daily. But somewhere along the way, the system got 
to her. Or perhaps Bert Gabriel did. As case manager for all the 
Prop. 36 clients in central Contra Costa County, Gabriel, a sort of 
taskmaster-slash-benevolent parent figure, is with them their entire 
journey, from their first day in court until she hands them their 
completion certificate. She is blunt and warily observant, yet 
retains the friendly warmth of the waitress she had been until, as 
she says, "my legs gave out and I needed to do something to do with 
my head." She's used to seeing people resist the way Gengras did, but 
knows if she can keep them in the program, they still have a shot.

For Gengras, knowing that Gabriel and her probation officer were 
watching killed her high. She'd use, but then she'd rat herself out 
rather than get caught with a dirty test. "I would call them and tell 
them, 'Listen, I can't stay clean. I just got high and I've got class 
in an hour, what do I do?'" she recalls. "They would tell me, 'Go to 
class, do what you've gotta do. Keep attending, Terri.'"

So she did. When Gengras realized she couldn't stay clean in her own 
apartment, where other users hung out, Gabriel got her into a 
residential program. Gengras hated it: getting up at the crack of 
dawn, doing chores, being told when to eat. But it worked.

Now 31 and clean since December, Gengras actually enjoys sticking to 
a simple routine: Get up, go to work, go home, watch TV, go to bed 
early, attend sobriety meetings on weekends. She stays with a friend 
from work, and has cut most ties with her previous life. She sees her 
kids, who now live with her mother, every other weekend, and is 
hoping to reunite with them by year's end. She's getting used to 
sobriety's quirks, such as having to exercise now that meth no longer 
keeps the pounds off. "It's kind of weird," she muses. "You trade in 
your drugs for cigarettes and coffee." She still calls Gabriel all 
the time to check in. "Hi," she'll say, "it's your favorite dope fiend."

Looking back at her Prop. 36 experience, Gengras says there was no 
magic bullet. "It was just the right time," she says. "There's 
absolutely nothing in the world that will make a user think that it's 
time to quit unless they are ready to." But for her, the program's 
value was that it was there when she needed it, like the answer to a 
question she hadn't asked. "There is not a chance I would have got 
clean if I wouldn't have gotten busted and given the opportunity to 
find another life," she says.

Prop. 36 may have been envisioned as drug diversion for small-timers, 
but Terri Gengras' seventeen-year habit turned out to be "pretty darn 
representative," Gabriel says, of the much older, more severely 
addicted crowd the initiative has served. The typical client would be 
a white male meth addict in his mid-thirties who has never been in 
treatment. More than half of the people who sign up have used drugs 
for at least a decade; a quarter for at least twenty years.

Given the tough customers, backers insist Prop. 36 has delivered on 
its promise to voters: From 2000 to 2005, the number of people in 
California prisons for drug offenses dropped by one-third, even as it 
increased in every other crime category. The program has saved $1.3 
billion, the Drug Policy Alliance estimates, $500 million of that 
from the state's having scrapped plans for yet another prison. A UCLA 
study commissioned by the state concluded that Prop. 36 saves 
taxpayers $2.50 for every $1 invested.

Even its detractors have praised the program for exposing thousands 
of people to their first treatment experiences, and for provoking 
some very refreshing collaborations between previously adversarial 
government agencies. In Contra Costa County, for example, the 
Division of Alcohol and Other Drugs Services used to clash with the 
probation department -- pushing for leniency in cases where probation 
stressed enforcement. With Prop. 36, the agencies formed cooperating 
units to oversee the progress of each client, and, to their delight, 
now find themselves thinking alike. "We found there would be this 
role reversal," says Lenny Williams, Prop. 36 program supervisor for 
the treatment agency. "Sometimes probation would see some redeeming 
qualities in a person that treatment was overlooking and say, 'Let's 
give this person another chance.' Sometimes we think probation is 
being a little too soft and we get more firm. It's a little dance, 
and we didn't expect it."

"What makes Proposition 36 so effective is our collaboration," 
concurs Ed Benton, Williams' counterpart in probation. The united 
front gives clients a bigger support network, they agree, and 
minimizes drug offenders' hitherto unchecked ability to play the 
agencies off of one another.

The key result, of course, is the treatment numbers. In five years, 
about 60,000 people have graduated from Prop. 36 treatment. Yet it's 
the majority who either drop out or fail to show up for treatment who 
motivated the recently passed revisions package. "Proposition 36 has 
done some good for a large number of people, but it's the other 
two-thirds of the people that we're concerned about," says state 
Senator Denise Ducheny, who carried the bill.

Since Prop. 36 accepts all eligible comers, it's hard to compare it 
directly to drug courts or other court programs that are more 
selective. But according to the UCLA researchers, studies of non 
Prop. 36 programs prior to 2001 showed treatment completion rates 
ranging from 32 to 55 percent. That puts Prop. 36 at the lower end of 
the range. The newer program has fared better in the East Bay, 
however, with completion rates running in the high 30s or low 40s, 
percentagewise. Some counties, including Alameda, now run it side by 
side with the drug courts, which handle offenders ineligible for Prop. 36.

For some Prop. 36 supporters, the treatment stats are less convincing 
than the anecdotal evidence that the program reaches long-term 
addicts. In a recent letter to colleagues, Contra Costa's Judge 
Hiramoto wrote: "I was a skeptic when I took over the Proposition 36 
calendar in January of this year. I didn't understand it, and I 
didn't see much value in it. I felt there was an element of coddling 
drug addicts inherent in the program. It is, after all, taxpayer 
mandated and funded drug recovery."

Yet after seeing some profound turnarounds in her own court, she's a 
convert. "I do know this approach works," she says now. "I see it 
every week. It doesn't work for everyone, but I've seen it work, 
especially with some of the hard-core people." If anything, she says, 
Prop. 36 errs on the side of not being forgiving enough. "Three is 
not a magical number," she says of the proposition's "three strikes" 
rule. "If recovery is the goal, then there are people with more 
serious substance abuse problems who could be helped with more 
chances and will be lost under the current system."

Another frequent criticism of Prop. 36 is its street reputation as a 
"get out of jail free" card, which no doubt feeds the high attrition 
rate. Some offenders agree to it with no intention of getting clean. 
Others sign on, then walk out of the courthouse and never look back. 
"They've heard from their using friends that they won't be after you 
for a while, you have time," Williams says. "Well, for an addict, 
just give me another day, you know." And although a warrant goes out 
for their arrest, he adds, "that doesn't mean that they actually get 
picked up the next day. Some people have been on warrant status for a 
long time. We have drawers full of files of people who took 
Proposition 36, and all of the sudden then they're gone."

The program has also frustrated some cops and prosecutors. This 
summer, legal newspaper The Recorder reported that Alameda County 
prosecutors had stopped showing up at Hayward's Prop. 36 court; 
because the law limits their choices, and defendants aren't facing 
jail time, prosecutors found there was little for them to do. Nobody 
from the DA's office would comment on this issue, but Deputy DA Jeff 
Rubin brings up another Prop. 36 frustration: Prior to its passage, 
he says, a possession charge was a good way to get someone suspected 
of more serious crimes, such as dealing, into custody. "Often the 
crime they're arrested for is just the tip of the iceberg," he says. 
But now, he says, police officers are loath to make small-time drug 
arrests because they know the offenders will just take Prop. 36 and 
be back on the street the next day.

Possession was definitely just the tip of Colby Quinn's iceberg. He 
liked any drug that made him feel in control and fed his adrenaline 
jones. "For thirteen years, there wasn't a day that went by that I 
didn't use one or two or three different kinds of drugs," he says.

At age thirteen, Quinn began smoking and selling pot. He says his mom 
manufactured the rave drug GHB, so he used that, too, and helped her 
sell it. At seventeen, he says, his mom gave him his first shot of 
steroids to help bulk him up for football, and Quinn gave himself 
extra doses on the sly. Already burly and athletic, the steroids made 
him superaggressive; he remembers he and his brother throwing each 
other into walls and doors during arguments about videogames or whose 
turn it was to go to the store for candy. Yet the steroids paid off 
on the field. He played for Los Medanos College and aspired to join 
the Xtreme Football League.

But at 22, Quinn's knees gave out. He had a series of surgeries to 
remove the cartilage in his kneecaps and replace his ACL tendon. He 
smoked weed and took Vicodin to control the pain, but that made him 
too stoned to go to class. He gave up some scholarships, and realized 
a football career would be impossible. "The day I got home from the 
last surgery I got an acceptance letter to try out for the XFL, for 
the San Francisco Demons," he says. "I sent an application, but there 
was no way."

He tried working construction, but the pay just couldn't match what 
he could make dealing coke, the next drug to catch his fancy. "I just 
thought I was the shit -- I was Mr. Drug Dealer," Quinn says wryly. 
"I had cars, I had motorcycles, I had my own place. People are your 
friends and they respect you because they want what you have." Quinn 
spent all his time partying, letting his friends and his brother 
crash with him and supplying them with drugs.

Then at 24 he tried meth, which became his express elevator to 
failure. The drug made him paranoid and delusional. He would sleep 
for days a time, napping out even in the middle of dealing, and wake 
up with no idea what had happened. His friends and customers took 
advantage of his disorientation, and stopped paying him. Soon he was 
supporting their habits as well as his own. Within about four months, 
he recalls, "it went from where I was selling drugs to all of a 
sudden I was buying drugs."

The change was devastating. "Being a drug user, you're scraping 
together every last little bit you can to get whatever you can all 
the time," he says. "As soon as you're out, you're wondering how 
you're going to get your next one, and then you do whatever you have 
to do to get it."

And Quinn did. He robbed people. He beat up customers who owed him 
money. He beat up other drug dealers. He stole cars. He spent the 
better part of two years in jail, on and off. And the meth made him a 
sloppy criminal. "I fell asleep stealing a Cadillac from some guy's 
home, right underneath the car," he remembers. "My use became more 
and more, and I can't even really tell you how it got out of control; 
it just did. Everything was gone. Then my friends were gone."

So was his brother, his best friend in the world, who'd gotten clean 
and cut off ties with users as part of his recovery. Quinn teetered 
on the edge, unsure of what he wanted. He'd taken a few stabs at 
sobriety, but hadn't lasted long in any program. He fantasized about 
ending his life with an overdose. Then, finally, he got the 
possession bust that made him eligible for Prop. 36. His choice was 
treatment or three years in San Quentin.

He took treatment.

At first, Quinn resisted change. He was belligerent, convinced he 
could quit meth if they'd just let him smoke weed, or maybe if he 
could just go get his head cleared out on his grandpa's farm. "The 
reality of it was I wasn't done using," he says. "My life hadn't hit, 
as they say in the program, the bottom." So he kept testing dirty. 
"I'd get a violation," he says, "so I'd disappear for a few months 
until they'd catch me again. Then I'd come back and Bert and George 
[Chinn, his treatment counselor] would be there and say, 'You know, 
we think he can change. We really believe in him,' and they'd get me out.'

"That was when it really affected me, when I decided I wanted to get 
right, because they were backing me, they actually wanted me," he 
continues. "I stopped stealing cars; I stopped robbing people. I just 
kind of became a drug user, and it was harder for me to feed my 
addiction because I felt guilty every single time I'd think to do 
something like that. There'd be times where I'd go out to steal cars 
and I couldn't do it. I was telling people, 'I don't got it in me no more.'"

It took Quinn nearly a year and a half to complete Prop. 36, and 
although he technically accrued only two treatment violations, he 
says he deserved several more. Ultimately, he agreed to residential treatment.

Now 27, and clean for seven months, Quinn lives with a group of 
recovered addicts in Martinez, does some construction work, and is 
trying to help his girlfriend through her own recovery. He's gotten 
rid of everything that reminds him of his past -- the stolen stuff, 
the tweaker friends -- but he wishes he could forget the phone 
numbers of his old hookups. Quinn says he's relieved to have 
completed Prop. 36 when he did, because this new "flash 
incarceration" stuff worries him. He mostly remembers jail as a good 
place to pick up tips about how to cook meth and steal cars. "I don't 
see jail as rehabilitation," he says.

The people behind SB 1137, the Prop. 36 revisions package, don't see 
jail as rehabilitation either, but as leverage to help steer people 
to sobriety. The law also would boost treatment time to 24 months and 
expand some eligibility requirements, but its main, most 
controversial provision is allowing two days in jail for a client's 
first treatment violation, five days for the second.

If the courts let the law take effect, jail would still be a last 
resort, after the judge has considered lesser sanctions such as fines 
or community service, and only if it won't cause drug offenders to 
lose their jobs or ability to pay child support, or disrupt ongoing 
treatment or methadone therapy.

Stephen Manley, the Santa Clara County judge who cochaired the 
committee behind SB 1137, views the threat of jail as a realistic way 
to deal with addicts who live in the moment, are used to manipulating 
the system, and aren't concerned about long-term consequences. "The 
people who wrote the proposition don't seem to understand that you've 
got to get an addict's attention," he says. "You have to coerce them 
into doing something they don't want to do. Forty-eight hours or 
longer in jail is not something so drastic that it ruins a person's 
life or destroys their belief that they can do better. What it does 
is act as a wake-up call that they'd better start taking things 
seriously, or they face severe consequences."

The Drug Policy Alliance argues that, by penalizing relapses, which 
are a normal part of the recovery process, SB 1137 undercuts the main 
premise of Prop. 36: that addiction is a medical problem, not a 
criminal one. "Ask a doctor if they would ever use jail to enhance 
patients' compliance with treatment for asthma, for diabetes, for 
heart disease," says coauthor Fratello. "These are other chronically 
relapsing conditions where you have patients who frequently don't do 
what they are supposed to do."

Even a short jail sentence can harm recovery, according to Prop. 36 
proponents. It's discouraging; it can disrupt a person's drug 
treatment, job, and family life. Besides, Abrahamson notes, "There is 
no such thing as a drug-free jail in California."

In addition to these points, the Drug Policy Alliance successfully 
argued in July that the revision package is unconstitutional because 
without voter approval, it amends the ballot initiative in a way not 
"consistent with its purpose." But the clock is ticking on the 
group's temporary restraining order. Next week, a local court is 
expected either to lift the order, enabling the revisions to take 
effect, or issue an injunction that further delays SB 1137, a 
decision that would likely propel the case into the state superior court.

The prospect of short-term incarcerations has elicited a wait-and-see 
approach from local Prop. 36 providers. "We're open to seeing how 
that works," muses Lenny Williams of Contra Costa County's program. 
"Some people are pretty recalcitrant and need to know that authority 
exists and will respond to it. We're dealing with some pretty 
hard-core people here."

However, Gary Spicer, who until recently oversaw Alameda County's 
program, cautions that people who already have experienced jail are 
often completely inured to the threat. "We have to be careful about 
seeing that as the resolution to reducing attrition rates and seeing 
that as a motivation that's always going to work, because 
historically it didn't do anything," he says. "We've been jailing 
people a really, really long time and yet we didn't seem to be making 
big strides in the national war on drugs."

The individual war on drugs, however, is fought here, at a table in a 
plain, fluorescently lit back room of the New Connections treatment 
center in Concord, around which are seated Gabriel, deputy probation 
officer Ron Pearson, and treatment counselors George Chinn and Don Taylor.

This is the Recovery Gateway Unit, where the Prop. 36 team assesses 
the progress of its clients. The group compares notes: Who's causing 
trouble, who's testing dirty. They have an easy camaraderie, and when 
clients come in, the team members fluidly trade between good cop and 
bad cop roles. Maybe a client can fool one of them, but all of them? 
No way, they say. Plus, it's hard to trick the pile of foil-wrapped 
urinalysis tests lying ominously in the middle of the table.

Today they have a new client, a lanky, sunburned guy with a wispy 
goatee and giant ears. He says he wants to go into detox tonight and 
that he's ready to kick meth because his life is going downhill. He 
was injured at work, he explains, and some of his equipment was 
stolen. "I'm on the edge," he pleads.

"If we were to test you tonight, would you test clean?" Gabriel asks.

"The last time I used was a week ago, so I believe so. Although," he 
says slowly, "maybe for marijuana."

Chinn raises an eyebrow. "Marijuana is not a drug to you?"

"No," the guy says, not catching the warning sign.

Everyone in the room wants to put this guy in detox. But they know 
he's lying. He's admitting to something small to cover up something 
big. He's way too jumpy for someone who hasn't used meth recently. 
Until he can be honest with them, they feel they can't really help him.

Without even having to discuss it, the group makes a unanimous 
decision: They tell him he'll have to test, then park him out on the 
lobby couch to sweat about it.

In the meantime, they minister to a parade of others: There's the guy 
who skipped his urine tests for a month, and gets a stern scolding 
from Gabriel and Pearson, followed by some encouragement from Chinn 
and Taylor. There's the guy covered in a contagious full-body rash, 
for whom they somehow develop a treatment plan that will prevent 
physical contact with other clients. There's the guy with the 
gigantic White Power tattoos who blushes demurely while Gabriel hands 
him his completion certificate and everyone claps.

Then they bring the reluctant new client back from the lobby.

"I did take some painkillers that I neglected to tell you about," he 
admits right away. "My girlfriend gave them to me because my shoulder 
is blown out. And I took meth a week ago, so it could come up."

"Not really," Chinn says. "You're just prepping us in case it does." 
He explains to the man that the drug would have left his system days 
ago. The group tells him, however, that if he tests, it will 
distinguish between prescription painkillers and street drugs.

Finally the guy crumbles: It's only been a few days, he admits. "Can 
I get into a detox bed tonight?"

Taylor looks at him with a kindly expression. "Thank you for your 
honesty," he says. "Now we'll be able to help you the best way. Go into detox."

"And get some rest," Gabriel says sympathetically. She says a bed 
will be ready for him if he can get to Richmond by 8 p.m. At his 
request, she even notifies his girlfriend.

But now that a plan is in motion, the man seems uncomfortable. He 
says maybe he can't make it in time, even though he has two hours to 
make a thirty-minute drive. Maybe stuff will be stolen from his truck 
if he has to park there overnight. Maybe he's too low on gas.

"Are you trying to talk your way out of this?" Chinn asks.

"No, I'm just saying I'll have to stop and get some gas," he insists.

Another telepathic moment. The team has seen this before -- people on 
the cusp, torn between a desire to get clean and the physical craving 
that could make them another no-show. They try to buck him up a 
little, praising his honesty and his smart decision-making.

Once he's gone, Chinn murmurs, "I sensed he was bagging out a little."

"Let's be realistic -- it's a voluntary program," Pearson says. 
"Between the time he left and 8 p.m., a number of things could 
happen. He could call the girlfriend again, and maybe she's using. 
Maybe he'll say, 'I'll do it tomorrow, but not today.'"

There's nothing to do now but wait. That's the twist to the Prop. 36 
experiment: It gives people a choice. And when you do that, anything 
can happen. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake