California's groundbreaking "drug treatment instead of incarceration" initiative, Proposition 36, has yielded excellent results in its first two years of implementation, according to a state-commissioned study
from the UCLA. The report details impressive rates of successful treatment outcomes, steady increases in the overall number of people diverted to treatment, and continued opportunities for first-time drug treatment clients.
"The UCLA evaluation once again confirms the wisdom of the voters who passed Prop. 36," said Judy Appel, Attorney with the Drug Policy Alliance. "They've shown the nation a new and better way to treat addiction, reduce crime and save a lot of money at the same time."
Appel added, "Prop. 36 offers two things that the drug war's excessively punitive policies have never delivered -good results and a brighter future. It's no surprise that other states are already following California's lead."
Prop. 36 passed with 61% support in 2000. It requires that people convicted of nonviolent drug possession receive drug treatment instead of incarceration for their first two nonviolent drug possession offenses. According to the UCLA study, more than 66,000 people were diverted to drug treatment in the program's first two years. Comparing costs of a year of drug treatment and probation supervision to the astronomical costs of incarceration, the Drug Policy Alliance estimates savings of hundreds of millions to the state budget.
According to the UCLA report, conducted by researchers at the university's Integrated Substance Abuse Programs:
- Prop. 36 clients are succeeding in treatment at rates similar to those of clients in other diversion programs, such as drug courts, even though, on average, they have longer histories of drug addiction. (Drug courts use more costly, punitive and invasive measures to coerce people into complying with treatment, including incarcerating participants early in the process of recovery for a single failed drug test.)
- Prop. 36 opened the door for many non-violent drug users to enter drug treatment for the first time. In each of the first two years of implementation, about half of Prop 36 clients were entering drug treatment for the first time.
- In the first year of Prop. 36's implementation, 30,469 people entered treatment. In its second year, 35,947 entered treatment.
- A majority of Prop. 36 participants referred to treatment received at least 90 days of treatment. Treatment experts generally consider 90 days to be adequate time to achieve positive results.
The study also highlighted several areas in which implementation of Prop. 36 could be improved. The report found, for example, that many individuals are still not being referred to the specific kind of treatment programs they need. Few Prop. 36 clients received methadone maintenance treatment, which is considered the gold standard for treating opiate addiction (according to the National Institute of Health, among others). Treatment completion and duration would likely improve for heroin-using clients, the authors predicted, if methadone was available.
Prop. 36 advocates agreed with the report's recommendations that treatment outcomes could also be further improved if funding were expanded for residential treatment programs for the most severely addicted clients.
Supporters anticipated the growing evidence of the initiative's success would also prompt an escalated "backlash" campaign by special interest groups who have opposed Prop. 36 since it was on the ballot in 2000.
"When you make a change as historic and effective as Prop. 36, you're going to threaten the budgets and influence of groups who did well under the old system of taxation and incarceration," said Glenn Backes. "But Californians have now seen what it means to get smart on addiction and smart on crime, and it's too late to go back to the bad old days."
Supporters of Prop. 36 are confident that any effort to undermine the initiative's funding or tamper with its effective implementation will ultimately be unsuccessful, since Prop. 36 is more popular than ever with California voters. According to a recent poll sponsored by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency and conducted by the Field Research Corporation, 73% of California voters would now vote for Prop. 36, up from the 61% of voters who passed the initiative in 2000.
"Anyone who really values public safety and wants a prudent budget is a fan of Prop. 36," said Backes. "It's helping thousands of people turn their lives around and become productive citizens, and freeing up lots of money that can now be spent to improve schools or for more effective law enforcement. Californians should be very, very proud. " Download Evaluation of the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act 2003 Report
ATTENTION TV JOURNALISTS: Upon request, Drug Policy Alliance may provide you with "A New Way of Life"
, a video production documenting the process and implementation of Proposition 36 with clients, judges and treatment providers.