Home for the Holidays: Proposition 36, California

Press Release December 19, 2004
Media Contact

Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384 or Elizabeth Mendez Berry at (646) 335-2242

For many people who live on the streets or in prison, the holiday season is the hardest time of year. But since the passing of Proposition 36, California’s landmark treatment instead of incarceration initiative, thousands of non-violent drug offenders have had an opportunity to reunite with their families. For many ex-addicts who have graduated from the program, this Christmas is the first time in years that they have been able to celebrate with their families.

“Before I entered Prop 36 I never saw my family during the holidays,” said Gary, 47, a Prop 36 graduate who had used drugs for 30 years. “Yesterday I bought toys for my grandchildren. I am now a productive member of society.”

Instead of pushing addicts through the revolving door of prison again and again, Proposition 36 provides them with a path away from drugs. According to the official, state-sponsored evaluation of Prop 36, conducted by Douglas Longshore of UCLA, Prop 36 has extended access to treatment to tens of thousands of people who were not being reached by other treatment programs, 50% of whom have never had access to treatment before, and many of whom were severely addicted.

Proposition 36 also saves money. While an official cost saving analysis by UCLA will not be released until next year, our estimates indicate that the savings are in the hundreds of millions of dollars per year: prison costs $31,000 per person per year, compared to an approximately $3,200 per client for Proposition 36 participants. Proposition 36 also costs much less than drug courts.

“Clearly, Prop 36 has meant great cost savings for Californians,” said Glenn Backes, director of health policy for the Drug Policy Alliance. “But it’s really about saving lives: the people who are spending this holiday season with their families, instead of behind bars or in a morgue. California voters should be proud.”

The graduates profiled below are all available for interview, please contact Tony Newman at (646) 335-5384.


During the years Mary was using she didn’t even show up at her family’s home for the holidays. This year, Mary is caring for her two sick parents during the day, and at night she will be celebrating and cooking a holiday meal for the women in the residential treatment house where she now works. Mary started using drugs at age 38 and was arrested for the first time in her life at age 45. With the option of entering treatment through Proposition 36, Mary went into recovery. This upcoming February Mary will be celebrating three years clean and sober. Mary went back to school in the field of recovery, got her certification, and has been working in a recovery house for the last two years.

De Andre
Los Angeles

As a user of crack cocaine, De Andre was well known to police officers in Los Angeles– he had begun using at the age of 20. He’s now 28, and since being offered treatment through Proposition 36 in April 2004, he has been getting his life back on track. He now has a job and is going to school, and says he is grateful for receiving treatment because he can now spend more time with his two daughters. De Andre admits that if it weren’t for Prop 36 he would “probably be running the streets or dead.” This year, he is spending Christmas with his family. He is grateful to be able to buy gifts for them, because last year he hid from them during the holidays, ashamed of what his life had become.


Gary used drugs for 30 years before he was able to turn his life around. He had lost job after job, as well as his home, and was living in a tent in a canyon when he was picked up on possession charges and offered the choice between years in prison and treatment through Prop 36. Gary was 47 when he entered treatment. After completing a residential program, he was able to move in with his daughter and meet his grandchildren for the first time. He graduated from Prop 36 in February of 2003, and he now has his driver’s license, owns two vehicles, has a job and rents an apartment. This year, he has been able to afford to buy toys for his grandkids, and will be celebrating Christmas with them.


On January 6th Sam will complete his 12 month residential program and become a Proposition 36 graduate. During the program he obtained his GED, went to trade school, graduated and is now part of the carpenter’s union. He specializes in installing fireproofing insulation. His counselor beams as he describes Sam’s successes, “He is receiving a pension and benefits and making good money. He saved enough money to buy his own vehicle and is now saving to move into his own apartment.” Before entering Prop 36, Sam lived on the streets. When he was brought in on a possession charge and his public defender offered him Prop 36, he decided to enter treatment. Sam will celebrate the holidays with his family this year. After not having seen his seventeen-year-old brother for seven years, he now regularly takes him to the movies on the weekends.

Los Angeles

William has been to jail before, but it never helped him kick the 20 year Methamphetamine addiction he picked up while he was in the Navy. The last time he was in court, he thought they would send him back behind bars, but they offered him Prop. 36. He took the treatment option, and after two years clean and sober, he says that without Prop. 36, the only thing that would have gotten him off of drugs would have been an overdose. This year, Bill will celebrate Christmas with his fianc

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

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