Downey Jr. to Receive Treatment, Not Prison For Non-Violent Drug Possession

Press Release July 15, 2001
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Tony Newman at 510-208-7711 x 1383 or Shayna Samuels at 212-547-6916

Under the terms of California’s landmark Proposition 36, Robert Downey Jr. will not be going to prison for his drug addiction, a court ruled today. The actor, who entered a plea of “no contest” to cocaine possession charges, was instead sentenced to one year of residential drug treatment.

Prop. 36, which went into effect July 1, mandates treatment instead of incarceration for a person’s first two non-violent drugs offenses. It is expected to save California taxpayers more than $900 million over five years, while diverting an estimated 36,000 people per year into treatment. Advocates say Mr. Downey’s case proves that the initiative is having its intended effect.

“Robert Downey Jr.’s case shows that Prop. 36 is already doing what the voters of California intended – providing treatment, not prison, for people with drug problems,” said Whitney Taylor, director of Prop. 36 Implementation for the Lindesmith Center – Drug Policy Foundation.

Recovery from addiction is widely recognized to involve relapse – often a number of times – before it is successful. Taylor said that Downey’s repeated efforts to get clean are not at all unusual, and that people require a wide variety of forms of treatment to achieve lasting success.

“Putting a life back together after a problem with drugs or alcohol – or food or gambling for that matter — can be a long and difficult process,” said Taylor. “Prop. 36 takes the essential first step by recognizing that prison is not the answer. Step two is to experiment patiently with different approaches until we find something that will work for Mr. Downey and the tens of thousands of others like him.”

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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