Pubdate: Wed, 13 Dec 2006
Source: Billings Outpost, The (MT)
Copyright: 2006 The Billings Outpost
Author: Roger Clawson
Bookmark: (Drug Courts)
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


The bad news is: The War in Iraq has gone south along with U.S.
credibility worldwide.

The worse news is: The president seems intent on staying the

The worst news is: The War in Iraq is going whiz-bang marvelous
compared to a much older conflict here at home - The War on Drugs.

Seven presidents have stayed the course in this campaign. As a result,
more than 2.5 million inmates in U.S. jails and prisons are eating our
lunch, not to mention our education budget, funds desperately needed
to upgrade highways and bridges, and money that could be used in the
search for cancer cures or a vaccine for AIDs.

America has more people behind bars than any nation on earth, more
than any nation that has ever existed. More than 750 or every 100,000
U.S. citizens are currently incarcerated. Compare this with Russia's
500 prisoners per 100,000 population and the 250-prisoner average of
most developed nations.

In Montana, the Department of Corrections has two responses to the
problem of exploding prison population.

The first is to change the laws and put 3,000 felons back on the
streets. This option gives legislators the boojums, so they vote for
the department's second (and preferred) choice: Build or rent more

Mona Sumner, Rimrock Foundation's chief operating officer, calls these
new cells "meth cells" - prison space created to accommodate the
casualties in the War on Drugs' battle against methamphetamine.

Since the meth epidemic first broke out in California, we might look
to the Golden State for an answer. In 2000, when prison inmates
serving time for simple drug possession topped 20,000, Californians,
in a grass roots revolt, passed Proposition 36.

Prop 36 gave all nonviolent drug offenders a choice between prison and
intensive drug treatment. By the end of 2003, there were 7,000 fewer
men and women serving time for simple drug possession than in 2000.

Rod Hickman, secretary of the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency,
declared this summer, "The era of building prisons is essentially over."

A woman's prison closed in 2003. Margot Bach, a spokeswoman for the
California Department of Corrections, said, "There are a lot of
reasons the population is down. but we think the biggest factor with
the women's numbers is Proposition 36."

Construction of a new prison was canceled, saving the state $500
million. Thanks to Prop 36, the prison population rose by only 1
percent in a period of economic distress when property crimes were

Treatment mandated by Prop 36 costs $120 million per year. A UCLA
study determined that the treatment-rather-than-jail policy has saved
the state a net of $800 million over five years.

Critics have charged that Prop 36 has a low success rate, but
according to the report, the success rate is 34 percent after two
years, compared to 37 percent for drug courts and 30 percent for
voluntary drug treatment admissions.

Both friends and foes of Prop 36 are nibbling at its edges this year.
Some would shift treatment funds into other areas. Some favor "flash
incarceration" (a taste of jail) for offenders who relapse or fail to
cooperate with the treatment program.

Though the policy will be tweaked here and there, it will survive.
More than 60 percent of California's voters approved Prop 13. Its
popularity has not waned. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake