Successful, Voter-Approved Proposition 36 Treatment-Instead-of-Incarceration Program Abandoned by Sacramento

Press Release May 24, 2010
Media Contact

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

SACRAMENTO — Today the Senate Budget Committee followed the Assembly Budget Committee’s lead and appeared ready to endorse the Governor’s plan to eliminate funding for Proposition 36, the state’s landmark, ten-year-old, voter-approved law that offers treatment instead of incarceration for a low-level drug possession violation. In contrast, the governor’s revised budget proposal includes an increase in corrections spending. Advocate groups cried foul, urging the Legislature to stay true to the will of the voters and prioritize treatment over incarceration.

“Until Sacramento ends the arrest, prosecution and incarceration of thousands of Californians for low-level, non-violent drug possession offenses each year, our elected officials have an obligation to continue funding Prop 36,” said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, the Drug Policy Alliance’s deputy state director in Southern California. “There are 24,000 people in a California prison for a drug possession offense, at a cost to taxpayers of $1.2 billion a year. Every cent of that money should be directed to treatment in the community instead.”

Regardless of treatment defunding, Prop 36 remains the law of the land. Under Prop 36, enacted by 61 percent of voters in November 2000, eligible defendants cannot be incarcerated for a simple drug possession offense unless they have first been offered services through a licensed treatment program.

Since the law took effect, over 300,000 people have accessed treatment through the program, taxpayers have saved over $2 billion in incarceration costs and UCLA found no negative impact on crime trends. Nonetheless, the governor’s budget proposes ending funding for Prop 36, eliminating as much as two-thirds of the state’s treatment capacity and effectively sentencing treatment-eligible defendants to a waiting list instead.

“As sponsors of Prop 36, we know that treatment works. We look forward to the day when elected officials catch up with the public and understand that drug use is primarily a health issue not a criminal one — and when Californians can access the help they need in the community. Unfortunately, our leadership, for now, is still committed to the wasteful and counterproductive incarceration approach,” Dooley-Sammuli said.

As federal parity and health care reform legislation is phased in over the next few years, many more Californians will be insured and able to pay for treatment through their own private insurance. Unfortunately, the proposed cuts promise to eviscerate the state’s treatment system just as it should be expanded in preparation for additional demand.

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

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