Pubdate: Wed, 21 Apr 1999
Source: Arizona Daily Star (AZ)
Author: Howard Fischer (Capitol Media Services)


Phoenix--Voter-approved legislation to keep first- and second-time drug
offenders out of prison has saved Arizona taxpayers $2.5 million, a report
by the staff of the Arizona Supreme Court says.

But the report, released yesterday, assumes that every one of the 551 people
sentenced under the terms of Proposition 200 would otherwise have gone to

In fact, Mary Judge Ryan, the chief deputy Pima County attorney, said the
reverse is true. She said most people who are convicted for the first time
of possession of drugs for personal use would wind up back on the streets.

If even half of those convicted would not have wound up in prison, the
entire claimed net gain would be wiped out.

Barbara Broderick, director of the Supreme Court's adult services division,
also acknowledged the study does not address whether people placed into
treatment programs instead of being sent to prison are more likely to stay

Proponents of the 1996 initiative said the key to stopping people from using
and abusing drugs is treatment and not incarceration.

The 1996 measure specified that people convicted of the personal possession
of drugs cannot be sent to prison for a first or second offense. Instead
they would be eligible for probation and required during that time to take
part in a drug treatment or education program.

That didn't necessarily mean they were free: The Arizona Supreme Court ruled
last year that judges may impose time in a county jail -- up to a year -- as
a condition of probation.

The same measure allows medical doctors to prescribe otherwise illegal drugs
for people suffering from serious or terminal illnesses. That provision has
been stymied by federal Drug Enforcement Administration threats to revoke
the prescription-writing privileges of any doctor who agrees to such treatment.

The 551 people placed on probation under the terms of the initiative saved
the state more than $5 million in prison costs, according to the report.
That is based on the presumption that the average offender would have wound
up in prison for six months.

After the cost of probation was deducted, that still left the state with a
net saving in excess of $2.5 million.

"That's silly," responded Barnett Lotstein, a special assistant Maricopa
County attorney. "No judge will send a first-time offender to prison," he
said, and few second-time offenders will get such a sentence.

As to the long-term effects of the change in law, Broderick said that is yet
to be determined.

She said the study covered only the first full year after the change in law,
too early to measure recidivism rates. Broderick said future studies will
look at whether those who went through the treatment programs are likely to
get arrested again.

Broderick said there is some evidence that treatment works, at least in the
short term.

She said 61 percent of those placed into probation programs completed them
successfully. And more than three-quarters of those tested for drugs while
on probation tested negative.

Lotstein said that's looking at the situation in reverse.

"What about the other 39 percent?" he asked of the completion rate. "Did
they just walk away from the program?"

The Supreme Court report said 22.5 percent of those in treatment programs
tested positive for drugs during the year of the study. Lotstein said those
figures are not impressive, although he added that he believes treatment works.

He noted that his own agency offered diversion programs before the 1996
initiative was approved. Under that program, first-time offenders would have
their convictions erased if they completed treatment programs.

He said that program had only an 8 percent recidivism rate after two years
versus 21 percent for those who did not get treatment.

- ---
MAP posted-by: Jo-D