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California voters passed Proposition 36, or the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act (SACPA or Prop 36), with a 61% majority in 2000. The proposition gives non-violent drug offenders an opportunity to get drug treatment instead of going straight to jail and likely entering or sustaining a pattern of a rotating door into and out of prisons. While it certainly requires money to fund drug rehabilitation treatment, it simultaneously saves money in the long run. First, it costs $34,000 to send someone to prison for a year, while it costs significantly less to send someone to treatment. Furthermore, it prevents spending on building more prison facilities.
Three groups of individuals fall under the jurisdiction of Prop 36: individuals charged with being under the influence or possession, on probation for drug-related charges, on parole without convictions of violent or “serious” felony. Prop 36 is optional, and individuals may choose prison time instead.
Judges are given latitude to implement anything from regular urinanalysis to restrictions on lifestyle or associations. If the individual fails to comply fully with these conditions, probation may be revoked. Judges may further choose to require individuals to receive literacy or vocational training and/or family therapy. The drug treatment programs must be licensed or certified programs providing “outpatient treatment, half-way house treatment, narcotic replacement therapy (such as methadone and similar substances), drug education or prevention courses, detox, or limited inpatient treatment” . Upon completion of drug-treatment program, the charges can be dismissed upon the judge’s discretion.
What about relapses? If the individual relapses, the first time the court will generally transfer the individual to a more intensive drug-treatment regimen. If the individual relapses again, the court may transfer the individual to an even more rigorous program or take away probation due to the defendant’s being “unamenable to treatment.” After a third relapse, proposition 36 is no longer applicable, and the defendant faces the original charges.
With the recent economic crash and scramble for funds for government run services, Prop 36 funding dwindled and ultimately ran out. The proposition mandated that for the first five years $120 million be set aside for treatment. After the initial five years, it went to $118 million, $18 million, and finally to no funding starting in 2009. This leaves drug offenders that qualify for Prop 36 in an interesting predicament. They cannot, by law, be incarcerated, but the government cannot provide them treatment. They are put on what appears to be an endless waiting list for treatment and told to go to 12-step drug programs.
Financially, the money spend gave a larger return. The population of individuals incarcerated for drug possession in California State Prisons decreased by 27% (and decreased by 40% by 2008). And as for the investment, for each one dollar spent on Prop. 36, $2.50 was returned. There were no major negative crime trends that were predicted by anti-Prop 36 lobbyists.
While Prop. 36 critics claim that the graduation rate of the program as low as 10%, other articles that have a more moderate approach report that one third of participants graduate the program and half participate for 90 days or longer.
The Prop 36 approach truly treats addiction as a medical condition as opposed to a criminal violation. Yes, the addict has to choose to pick up an illegal substance or alcohol in the first place, but after that it just seems like an out of control spiral sometimes. It gives individuals the choice to continue in their behaviors or choose to be clean. That being said, let’s look at the treatment options again: “outpatient treatment, half-way house treatment, narcotic replacement therapy (such as methadone and similar substances), drug education or prevention courses, detox, or limited inpatient treatment.” I think it’s important to focus on that “or.” Obviously, none or few of these options are currently available due to lack of all funding, but even if they were, I don’t think that a single one of those things could get me sober. For example, a medical detox that sent me back into the world a few days later wouldn’t have done anything. I would have bought a bottle of vodka and been on my way. Alternatively, a drug education course I would have laughed my way through. Realistically, I went to four inpatient treatments and two outpatient treatments before I got sober. I know friends who claim they’ve been through over ten. I appreciate the idea of giving people an option to get sober, but if they want people to actually get sober, they have to get a lot more funding and take addiction far more seriously.



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