Corrections Department, Analysts Differ on Proposition 36
California Department of Corrections officials are "disputing" projections made by legislative analysts regarding Proposition 36's effect on the number of prison beds needed and taxpayer savings, the AP/Contra Costa Times reports. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office has stated that the proposition, which directs first- and second-time drug offenders to treatment instead of incarceration, will cause a reduction of 9,000 to 11,000 prison beds in five years. According to the office, this decline will lead to annual taxpayer savings of $200 million to $250 million in operating costs, plus a "one-time savings of $450 million to $550 million because the state won't have to build new prisons as rapidly." The department, however, contends the proposition will reduce need for beds by 6,270 over the same period. Department officials said the discrepancy arises from the fact that many drug users are placed in "dormitory-style prison camps or community correctional centers," which cost the state up to $8,000 less per year than normal prisons to house an inmate.
But Dan Carson, author of the LAO report, said that prison officials have "underestimated" the effect Proposition 36 will have both in keeping drug users out of jail and the reduction of prison sentences for repeat offenders. "Basically, they assumed no [e]ffect at all from drug treatment programs, which is kind of an awkward argument for the administration when they've asked for hundreds of millions of dollars each year for treatment, on the presumption treatment works," he said. According to the AP/Contra Costa Times, estimates from both sides are speculative, as it is unclear whether California county prosecutors "will refuse to negotiate plea bargains with drug dealers, knowing that a drug use or possession conviction will bring no prison time." In any case, corrections officials are attempting to expand their drug treatment programs, saying the current number of beds falls "far short of the need" and that Proportion 36 will not have a great short-term effect in reducing the need for treatment programs (Thompson, AP/Contra Costa Times, 11/30).
In other Proposition 36 news, San Francisco's chief adult probation officer said yesterday his department needs an "immediate infusion" of $1.5 million in funding in order to cope with the "thousands" of drug offenders expected to "flood an already overworked system," the San Francisco Chronicle reports. Speaking at a drug policy meeting, Armando Cervantes said the money would go toward hiring new probation officers, as most current officers have caseloads numbering in the hundreds. "We're talking about a whole revolution in terms of our probation system," he said. David DeAlba, special assistant to the attorney general, said that appropriating funds for probation and drug testing will be a "priority" when the Legislature convenes. "Without adequate probation support, (Proposition) 36 will be difficult to implement," he said. The meeting was organized by San Francisco District Attorney Terence Hallinan, who was the only California district attorney to support the proposition. He has said that the initiative will place 2,500 San Franciscans in treatment programs instead of jail each year, and pledged yesterday that the city will provide money for such programs. "In San Francisco we have the will and we find the way," he said (Hartlaub, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/30).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.