Prop. 36 Saved California $1.4 Billion in First Five Years

Press Release April 5, 2006
Media Contact

James May at (916) 202-1636 or Dave Fratello at (310) 394-2952

SACRAMENTO – A new state-sponsored study shows that Proposition 36, which requires treatment instead of incarceration for drug offenders, is saving $2.50 for every $1 invested – a total of $173.3 million in the first year alone. The Drug Policy Alliance said today that those savings, projected over the program’s first five years, mean that California taxpayers have saved $1.4 billion by diverting drug users to treatment instead of incarcerating them.

“This study proves that treatment is the most humane and cost-effective approach to addiction. Now the pressure is on the legislature and the governor to continue and expand this program to help California save more lives and more money,” said Nikos Leverenz, director of the Drug Policy Alliance’s Sacramento office. “That will require sufficient funding. The governor’s current proposal of $120 million is far short of the estimated $210 million needed.”

The research by UCLA was mandated by the text of Proposition 36, which was approved by California voters in November 2000. It is the most ambitious and comprehensive analysis of treatment alternatives to incarceration performed anywhere, using vast sample populations and drawing cost-benefit data from multiple official sources. The savings data are drawn from nearly 130,000 individuals, comparing costs and benefits before and after Prop. 36 took effect.

“We wrote Prop. 36 to require data collection,” said Dave Fratello, an author of Proposition 36, “confident that the evidence would support continued and expanded funding for the program.”

“The results are in,” Fratello continued. “You can’t argue with numbers like these. Treatment works, and the only question is how deep we can dig to fund it properly. It is now completely clear that the money we put in will come back several times over.”

The UCLA study found a net savings of $173.3 million in the first year alone. The Drug Policy Alliance extrapolated over five years to estimate total savings of $866.5 million. This projection is probably conservative for several reasons, one being that Prop. 36 completers, which UCLA found to save taxpayers the most, grew in number in subsequent years. Additional savings of at least $500 million were made possible because Prop. 36 rendered a new prison unnecessary, bringing total savings to $1.4 billion in the first five years.

In addition to these cost savings, a recent Drug Policy Alliance report showed that Prop. 36 diverted 140,000 people from incarceration into treatment in the first four years. About 60,000 will graduate from treatment by the end of the program’s fifth year. During that time, California prisons saw a 32 percent drop in the number of people incarcerated for drug possession.

“The financial benefits of Prop. 36 are more massive than expected. That’s good news,” said Margaret Dooley, the Drug Policy Alliance’s Proposition 36 statewide coordinator. “But the great news is that over 60,000 people have completed treatment and have been able to rejoin their families and find work. This is the true measure of Prop. 36’s success.”

To read the Drug Policy Alliance’s recent report, Proposition 36: Improving Lives, Delivering Results, visit To order copies, contact our Sacramento office at (916) 444 3751 or [email protected].

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

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