Los Angeles County Officials Worry About Ability to Implement Proposition 36
As the July 1 deadline to implement Proposition 36 approaches, Los Angeles County officials say they "need more time ... and money," the Los Angeles Times reports. The proposition, passed by 61% of voters in November, calls for nonviolent drug offenders to receive probation and treatment rather than jail time. Such a "reorientation" could be "profound" because one in three of the state's 162,000 prisoners is serving time for a drug-related offense. In Los Angeles County, officials estimate that the courts will divert up to 20,000 drug offenders to treatment annually. Virtually all parts of the criminal justice system will be affected, including county judges and probation officers, the Times reports. Concerned about finding enough qualified drug treatment providers, county officials are trying to certify new providers and convince existing providers to "expand their reach." Officials also face the challenge of "making do with the limited funding that is supposed to cover" implementation costs. Based on a statewide allocation formula, Los Angeles County will receive $15.7 million of $60 million in start-up funds to create an infrastructure to handle the shift. In addition, the county will receive about $31 million of the state's $120 million annual operating funds for the law.
Calling the implementation process a "monumental undertaking," Los Angeles County Public Defender Michael Judge said that the county accounts for nearly 40% of drug offenders who are in state prison, but will receive only about 26% of state funds devoted to implementing the proposition. He added, "It's clear to us that Los Angeles did not get a proportionate share of the funds." Officials also are concerned that the new law prohibits use of any Proposition 36 money for drug testing. Many officials maintain that drug testing "plays a vital role in treatment programs" because it isolates people who relapse and provides "positive reinforcement" for people who remain sober. State legislation in the pipeline would "augment" Proposition 36 funds with money for drug testing. Prosecutors and defense attorneys also are concerned about "different interpretations of the language of Proposition 36," particularly "vague" definitions of "drug-related" probation violations. The county Board of Supervisors is expected within a month to review a plan that outlines how the proposition will be implemented, the Times reports. But Judge predicted, "Even after the deadline, it's going to be a work in progress. It could take years before all the issues are eventually settled" (Lait, Los Angeles Times, 4/17).
Meanwhile, a Sacramento Bee editorial says that Proposition 36 "mistakenly bars" use of treatment money for drug testing, noting that a measure (SB 223) by Sen. John Burton (D-San Francisco) would "correct that mistake." The editorial maintains that "testing is necessary to determine whether public money is being wasted" and serves as a "crucial tool" to determine which treatment programs work best. Drug offenders "who sincerely want to break their addictions can be steered into the most effective programs" using drug testing, the editorial says. Without drug testing, probation officers have "no way of knowing which offenders have succeeded in treatment," the editorial notes. The editorial concludes, "County officials are eager to take advantage of the opportunity Proposition 36 offers to fight the scourge of drug addiction in a different way. The drug testing funds in SB 223 would give them the tools they need to fight effectively" (Sacramento Bee, 4/17).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.