Prestigious, Bipartisan State Commision Evaluates CA

Press Release March 10, 2003
Media Contact

Tony Newman at 510-208-7710

The prestigious Little Hoover Commission – created in 1962 to investigate state government operations and promote efficiency, economy and improved service – today released a report on California’s strategies addressing drug addiction. The report, a resounding endorsement of Prop. 36, calls on policymakers to follow the voters’ lead by significantly expanding cost-effective and successful treatment options across the state.

“The Little Hoover report is a powerful and unequivocal confirmation of how smart the voters were when they passed Prop. 36,” said Daniel Abrahamson, legal director for the Drug Policy Alliance and co-author of the initiative. “Millions of Californians know that drug treatment works better and costs less than prison. The question remains, what’s it going to take for the governor to wake up and see the truth, too?”

The report comes at a time when Gov. Grey Davis, an outspoken opponent of Prop. 36, has proposed to “realign” the initiative’s implementation. The change, which Prop. 36 advocates strongly oppose, would remove all state oversight of Prop. 36, including auditing, data collection, quality assurance, and a state-wide five year evaluation.

With California facing a $35 billion deficit and forced to make painful spending cuts, Governor Davis has also refused to consider reducing any part of the state’s bloated prison budget. (Corrections was actually the only department to receive a budget increase this year.) Prop. 36 backers say the governor’s refusal flies in the face of all of the findings in the Little Hoover report, which explicitly underscore the cost-saving power of treatment over incarceration and encourages a reallocation of resources between the Department of Corrections and agencies delivering substance abuse services.

The commission’s differences with Governor Davis’s heavy emphasis on criminal justice and prison-based responses to addiction are clear, as is its enthusiastic endorsement of Prop. 36. From the opening letter by Michael E. Alpert, chairman of the commission:

A majority of Californians have come to realize the insidious nature of addiction, as well as the ineffectiveness, disparate and at times overly punitive response to those trapped in addiction. Proposition 36, approved by voters, reflected a clear choice – one supported by academic research and practical experience – that treatment can be a cost-effective, socially responsible and humane solution.

But the voter initiative did not go far enough. It did not make sure that the State was strategically using prevention, treatment and enforcement tools to reduce the consequences of addiction. And it did not ensure that the publicly-funded treatment programs perform to their potential to change lives. Those tasks still await state and local policy-makers and program administrators.

Prop. 36 was passed California voters in November 2000. It allows for treatment instead of incarceration for low-level, non-violent drug offenders. According to a Drug Policy Alliance County Survey, after one year (July 2001-July 2002), approximately 17,907 individuals were referred to Proposition 36 in six counties in California (Los Angeles, Riverside, Ventura, San Diego, Contra Costa and Sacramento). These six counties represent approximately 50% of the state’s population. Additionally, within the first year of implementation of Proposition 36 the California treatment system has increased the number of licensed and certified programs by 68%, which includes a 20% increase in residential treatment beds.

“Proposition 36 was a winner with the voters, it has proven a great success for California’s residents, and now it has been deemed a watershed policy initiative by respected, nonpartisan evaluators,” added Abrahamson. “It’s time to come on board, Governor Davis.”

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

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