Legislature Eliminates Funding for Prop 36 Voter-Mandated Drug Treatment; Ends Incarceration of Nonviolent Drug Offenses

Press Release June 16, 2009
Media Contact

Daniel Abrahamson at 501-295-5635 or Stephen Gutwillig at 323-542-2606

The Budget Conference Committee approved Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposal to eliminate funding for Prop 36, California’s landmark treatment-instead-of-incarceration program, enacted by voters in 2000. Under Prop 36, no one can be incarcerated for a simple drug possession offense unless they have first been given a chance at state licensed/certified treatment. The elimination of all drug treatment funding for nonviolent drug possession offenders would mean tens of thousands of nonviolent users each year would face no possibility of incarceration in jail or prison. People who are arrested but not provided access to the required treatment cannot be incarcerated.

“By eliminating funding for Prop 36, the Legislature ensures that fewer people will be sent to jail or prison for a drug possession offense,” said Daniel Abrahamson, Legal Affairs Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “We applaud them for recognizing that scarce resources shouldn’t be spent to incarcerate low-level drug offenders. But treatment through Prop 36 works. Wiping out these services will wreak major human damage, prove very costly in the long run, and further weaken California’s health. This action threatens to leave first- and second-time drug possession offenders on the streets, unsupervised and without access to treatment to which they are legally entitled.”

Since 2000, Prop 36 has provided treatment to 36,000 people a year, sharply reduced the number of drug offenders in prison, and reduced state costs by $2 billion. Over 280,000 people have entered community-based treatment under Prop 36, half of whom had never received treatment before. The number of people in state prison for drug possession has decreased 40% since Prop 36 took effect. According to UCLA, for every $1 invested in Prop 36, the state saves a net $2.50 to $4.00. Average per-person treatment costs are about $3,300, while incarceration in state prison costs $49,000 per year.

As part of the 2009 Federal Stimulus, California received $225 million through the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant (JAG) Program. This is the only source of funding for drug treatment in the federal stimulus package and can be applied toward Prop 36.

“As sponsors of Prop 36, the Drug Policy Alliance knows treatment works. The Legislature and the Governor have agreed to eradicate the only public safety program with independent evaluation that shows success in reducing recidivism and addiction. It will take years to rebuild the treatment programs Prop 36 made possible,” Abrahamson said. “We urge the Legislature to apply federal stimulus dollars to this crucial program.”

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

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