Treatment Not Jail: California Saving Hundreds of Millions of Dollars Thanks to Proposition 36, Reports Say 4/14/06

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California's Proposition 36, the six-year-old program that mandates treatment instead of prison for drug offenders, is saving taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars while dramatically decreasing the number of drug offenders in prison in the state, according to a new study from the Justice Policy Institute. The JPI report echoes a report released last week by UCLA that found taxpayers save $2.50 for every dollar invested in drug treatment and that the state saved $173 million in the first year of Prop 36's operation alone.

California prison

JPI's report said the rate of incarceration for drug possession offenses has decreased by more than a third. Since Prop 36 went into effect, the percentage of state prisoners doing time on drug charges has dropped from 27% to 21%, close to the national average.

"Since Proposition 36 came into effect, drug imprisonment in California fell, and this has saved Californian taxpayer hundreds of millions of dollars," said Jason Ziedenberg, coauthor of the report, and executive director of JPI. "In a state that has struggled with corrections and sentencing reform, Proposition 36 stands out as a successful way to reduce drug imprisonment."

"The cost savings are dramatic, but with increased system accountability measures and improved offender management, as well as incentives to community programs for better treatment entry, retention, and completion rates, they could rise even higher," said M. Douglas Anglin, co-author of the UCLA study and professor-in-residence of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences. "Our suggestions for boosting those savings include further improvements in the coordination of services and continuity of care within counties, better participant screening, improved matching of services to needs, and attention to special populations of drug offenders, including minorities and offenders with psychiatric problems."

The two reports will provide powerful ammunition for those seeking to increase funding for Prop 36 programs. Five years of voter-mandated funding run out this summer, and while Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has earmarked $120 million to cover costs next year, that isn't enough, say reformers. Spending needs to be at least $200 million next year, JPI study coauthor Scott Ehlers told DRCNet last month.

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Issue #431 -- 4/14/06

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