HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Prop 36 - 5 Years On
Pubdate: Mon, 06 Mar 2006
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2006 The Sacramento Bee
Cited: Proposition 36
Bookmark: (Substance Abuse and Crime 
Prevention Act)
Bookmark: (Treatment)


Drug Treatment Program's Rocky Start

Back in 2001, California voters approved Proposition 36, which
required that low-level drug offenders be treated for addiction
instead of imprisoned. The law got off to a predictably rocky start.

The initiative dumped 200,000 new patients onto already long waiting
lists. New drug treatment programs sprang up with little or no
guidance from the state, funded with $120 million per year in state
money mandated by the initiative. Standards for counselors were almost
nonexistent. Critics still complain that the state's minimum
requirements for drug counselor certification are insufficient.

But before the public moves to repeal the law or the governor and
legislators stop funding the treatment programs, it's important to
recognize that the alternative hasn't worked either. Incarceration is
an astronomically expensive failure. Some 80 percent of California's
prison inmates are addicts. Most inmates leave prison as addicted as
when they arrived. California has one of the nation's highest prison
return rates.

Proposition 36 remains a useful, even necessary option. Rather than
being abandoned, it needs to be strengthened.

Legislators are considering a "shock incarceration" component that
would send recalcitrant addicts back to jail. That probably violates
Proposition 36 and would face a challenge in the courts. Better
reforms are available.

Addicts who fail to show up for treatment as ordered by the courts
should face serious and certain consequences. Mandatory weekend work
details or other nonincarceration options would be less costly and
more effective. That would allow addicts to keep their jobs and
continue to support themselves and their families, while also
providing consequences for failure to comply with treatment orders.

There are no easy answers. Anyone who has fought a drug or alcohol
habit knows that it is a lifelong struggle. Proposition 36 is only
five years old. It has problems that need to be fixed. But treatment
ought not to be abandoned. If we know one thing for sure, it is that
the alternative, more incarceration, does not work.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake