Governor Seals Deal to Gut Drug Treatment, Proven Alternative to Incarceration Betrayed

Press Release July 27, 2009
Media Contact

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli at 213-291-4190 or Tommy McDonald at

Sacramento — Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today signed off on a budget that will decimate drug treatment. Treatment advocates warned that counties will not be able to provide treatment to all who are eligible under Proposition 36, a voter-approved measure that diverts low-level, nonviolent drug possession offenders to treatment. Nor can eligible defendants be incarcerated, since the sentencing law remains in effect.

“This is truly the end of an era,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance in Southern California. “Today California turns its back on the nation’s most successful experiment with treatment instead of incarceration. We’re entering a new phase, where Prop. 36 continues to protect low-level, nonviolent drug offenders from incarceration but where, sadly, there is little access to drug treatment. This doesn’t make any fiscal sense — especially when this state continues to spend $1 billion a year to lock up petty drug offenders in state prison.”

With annual funding of $120 million in 2001-05, Prop. 36 cut state costs by $2.50-4 for every $1 spent and diverted 36,000 people to treatment each year (UCLA). In 2006, the Legislature responded to the program’s proven track record by boosting funding to $145 million. Since its inception, Prop. 36 has provided treatment to over 250,000 people and saved a net $2 billion. Nonetheless, the new budget could see funding plummet to $18 million — just 8% of the $230 million-per-year level UCLA research found to be “adequate”. If federal dollars are secured, funding would still not exceed $68 million.

Advocates urged county and local governments to use limited local resources more innovatively by reducing the number of people entering the criminal justice system for low-level, nonviolent drug possession and by conserving those resources instead for local prevention and treatment systems. As one example of this approach, supporters pointed to San Diego’s Serial Inebriate Program (SIP), in which the county and city governments, law enforcement agencies and health systems collaborate to provide treatment to chronically homeless alcoholic individuals who would otherwise continue to soak up vast emergency room and criminal justice resources.

“Local law enforcement can be an important doorway into the public health system,” Dooley-Sammuli added. “Let’s face it. There’s no more room in court or jail. County and local governments can help reduce the burden by working with law enforcement and health systems to develop alternatives — by directing those who need it to county prevention and treatment services and by not prosecuting nonviolent, low-level drug possession in the first place.”

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

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