HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Advocates Urge Preservation Of Drug Treatment Not Incarceration
Pubdate: Tue, 12 Jul 2005
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2005 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Beth Fouhy, Associated Press
Bookmark: (Treatment)
Bookmark: (Incarceration)


SAN FRANCISCO - A state program that directs nonviolent drug offenders
into treatment rather than jail has been effective and must be allowed
to continue without new legislative restrictions, a group of drug
treatment advocates said.

"It's rare in public life to enact something that makes a great deal
of common sense and moral sense. That's what this program does," said
the Rev. Peter Laarman of the Los Angeles-based Progressive Christians
Uniting and a supporter of the program. The teleconference Monday was
organized by the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit group that drafted
the measure.

Proposition 36 - the so-called Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention
Act passed by voters in 2000 - allocates $120 million per year for
first- and second-time offenders to evade incarceration and enroll in
drug treatment programs instead.

The law has won praise among many treatment advocates, who say it has
helped thousands of drug users kick their addiction and saved
taxpayers roughly $250 million in incarceration costs annually. But
law enforcement officials complain the program lacks accountability
and that offenders are not sufficiently punished for lapses.

A 2004 UCLA study tracking the effectiveness of Proposition 36 found
that about 34 percent of offenders who were sentenced under the law
and had showed up for treatment, had successfully completed their
treatment. Supporters of the law called the figures encouraging,
noting the difficulty of treating addiction.

But opponents pointed out that the UCLA study also found that 31
percent of offenders treated under the measure were re-arrested,
compared with an 18 percent rate for other programs.

"Proposition 36 has been a treatment failure," said John Lovell of the
California Narcotics Officers Association.

With funding for Proposition 36 set to expire in 2006, several
lawmakers have authored legislation to renew the funding while
applying certain restrictions. A bill that would allow a short-term
jail option for certain offenders sponsored by state Sen. Denise
Ducheny, D-San Diego, overwhelmingly passed the Senate last month and
is now making its way through the Assembly.

In an interview, Ducheny said the bill was designed to improve
offenders' rate of compliance, while at the same time boosting the
number of people eligible for the program and extending the length of
time a person could be eligible for treatment.

"We're not saying in any way that folks should be incarcerated for the
drug conviction," Ducheny said. "What we're saying is there needs to
be a way to put you back in the program if you fall out."

In a conference call with reporters to commemorate the four-year
anniversary of the passage of Proposition 36, several supporters
warned Ducheny's bill would allow courts, not doctors, to make key
medical decisions for drug offenders.

"Chemical dependency is a medical and public health problem that
demands an appropriate solution," said Lisa Folberg of the California
Medical Association. "Under this bill, judges would be making
decisions about appropriate addiction treatment. We think they need to
be made by people who understand treatment."

Paul Colbert, a Sacramento resident who said he was addicted to
methamphetamine for 22 years before going through treatment under
Proposition. 36, said the program had succeeded for him while several
stints behind bars had not.

"I see people I used to do drugs with and they say they can't believe
I got clean," Colbert said, adding that he'd been drug free for 3 1/2
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin