Tuesday Public Hearing: San Diego Senator Proposes to Gut Voter-Approved Treatment instead of Incarceration Initiative (Prop 36)

Press Release March 24, 2011

SACRAMENTO – In 2000, Californians voted overwhelmingly to reform their criminal justice system by enacting Proposition 36, the initiative requiring that people be offered the option of drug treatment instead of incarceration for their first two non-violent drug possession offenses. According to California Department of Corrections data, since Prop. 36’s inception, there are 7,337 fewer prisoners incarcerated for drug possession in California’s overloaded prison system.

Next Tuesday, the Senate Public Safety Committee will debate Senate Bill 803 (Ducheny); a bill proposing to gut the core components of Proposition 36 by allowing jail time for first and second-time offenders.

The Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) announced its strong opposition to SB 803 and promised to use all of its available resources to stop any legislative override of the voter’s intiaitive. “Prop. 36 does not give drug offenders a free pass – it allows judges to sanction clients for missed appointments or early signs of relapse to drug use, but it does not allow them to be jailed,” said Glenn Backes, Health Policy Director of DPA. “California voters made it clear that they want addiction to be treated as a health issue instead of a criminal justice one and Sen. Ducheny is trying to overrule the public will.”

In contrast, the Senate Committee will also debate SB 556 (Migden), which proposes to strengthen Prop.36, and is supported by the California Society of Addiction Medicine, and other addiction experts and advocates. If passed, SB 556 will reduce the cost of probation supervision by shortening the term of probation for those defendants who complete drug treatment and provide greater flexibility for courts to order longer terms of treatment.

Backes said, “SB 556 will target available Prop. 36 funds to treatment and residential care.” A UCLA evaluation found 34.4 percent of people who began Prop. 36 completed treatment, approximately the same rates as other treatment probation models including drug courts. However, the report and other published studies suggested that due to funding mismanagement or shortages too many highly addicted defendants were placed in types of treatment that were inadequate to help them.

Taking into account approximately 36,000 Prop. 36 clients, SB 803’s proposed 21 additional days in jail would cost state and local government $44.3 million a year.

SB 803 will also jeopardize public safety due to population caps on county jails mandated by federal court order, including Los Angeles. “They have to release an inmate for each new person they bring through the door,” Backes explained. “Those released early will have been convicted of something worse than personal drug use. It’s the drug war mentality all over again – wasting money and lives on punishment while letting more dangerous offenders go free.”

Proposition 36 passed in 2000 with 61% of the vote statewide. A Field Poll published in 2004 found that 73% of voters said they would support the initiative if it were on the ballot again. Thus far, no independent evaluations of cost savings have been published, but the Legislative Analysts Office in 2000 projected net savings ranging from $100 million to $150 million annually and an additional one-time cost avoidance of $475 million and $575 million because Prop 36 would render the building of another prison unnecessary.

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

Sign up for updates from DPA.