Orange County Pilot Drug Treatment Program’s 40% Failure Rate Raises Concerns About Proposition 36
About 40% of drug offenders taking part in an Orange County pilot drug treatment program over the last few months failed to complete it, as they either "stopped showing up for meetings, began using drugs again or were arrested for new drug offenses," the Los Angeles Times reports. The results have left many judges and prosecutors concerned that Proposition 36, the voter-approved initiative that calls for most non-violent first- and second-time drug offenders to be directed toward treatment instead of jail, is "too lax to ensure widespread success." Of the more than 700 defendants who participated in the Orange County pilot program over the last few months, about 300 did not complete treatment. According to the Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, Orange County was the only county that instituted a "large-scale pilot program" to serve as a transition to Proposition 36, which took effect July 1, and the results of the program are "being scrutinized by officials throughout California." Reflecting the "pessimism" held by many judges and prosecutors about the initiative's success, Superior Court Judge Ronald Kreber said, "I just wonder if these people are going to be motivated to pursue a treatment program." Kreber and others said that the pilot program's 40% failure rate is "far above" the 22% failure rate of Orange County's Drug Court, which has "stricter rules" than Proposition 36, including the ability to place offenders "back in jail for violations." Still, Proposition 36 proponents say that the pilot's failure rate is "respectable for a program in its infant stages and that more defendants will complete the treatment with time." Tom Havlena, Orange County's senior assistant public defender, said, "What it should be is a system of working with people instead of growing impatient with them and locking them away" (Morin, Los Angeles Times, 7/15).
A second Times article reports that while the implementation of Proposition 36 has been "relatively smooth," it is "already clear that some significant legal and logistical issues must be resolved." In Los Angeles County, for example, the district attorney's office is expected to appeal cases in which drug offenders arrested before July 1 were allowed to participate in Proposition 36 treatment programs, but "most judges" have ruled that Proposition 36 should apply to "any defendants" who were convicted after July 1. Also, it remains uncertain whether drug offenders who were charged with separate misdemeanors in addition to drug violations should be eligible. Further, officials statewide have reported "day-to-day missteps, including confusion over processing court papers and problems in matching individual drug offenders to specific levels of care." In Ventura County, for instance, probation officials have been "overwhelmed" by the nearly 200 referrals for treatment since the beginning of the month, and county officials, like others throughout the state, say the funding provided by the state for implementing Proposition 36 will not be enough to cover all of its requirements. Presiding Superior Court Judge Bruce Clark said, "Some of these people obviously need residential treatment for a long period of time, and the funding isn't there" (Krikorian, Los Angeles Times, 7/15).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.