Problems With Ventura County Proposition 36 Programs Created Public Health, Safety Problems, Report Says
Drug treatment programs in Ventura County administered under Proposition 36 have been inadequately managed and may have contributed to an increase in crime and "compromised public safety and health," according to a 93-page report released Monday by the Ventura County Grand Jury, the Los Angeles Times reports. Under Proposition 36, a ballot measure approved by California voters in November 2000, some nonviolent drug offenders are offered treatment rather than jail terms. However, the report charges that the county Behavioral Health Department, which runs the program in the county, "deliberately distorted statistics" by neglecting to compile accurate data, failing to randomly test offenders and properly communicate the test results to law enforcement agencies, the Times reports. For example, the law states that offenders could face jail terms if they test positive for illicit drugs three times, but District Attorney Greg Totten said some offenders can have "five or 10 dirty tests before a person is even reported back to the court." The report states that the "apparent mishandling of discretion reflects badly on Prop. 36 and it reflects badly on Ventura County."
The grand jury called for the county executive officer to assume responsibility for the program from the county BHD. The report also recommended more frequent drug testing for offenders in the program and immediate disclosures of test results to law enforcement officials.
Totten said that crime in the county has increased in part because of inadequate management of Proposition 36 programs, although he said that the link is "anecdotal." Totten said, "[I]f you strictly focus on a touchy-feely social services treatment model, it doesn't take into account the danger these people can pose." The report said the county BHD was "the lone agency continuing to declare itself victorious in the county's war on drugs." Agency officials have said that the program is a success and that the low initial cure rates can be attributed to a propensity to relapse among people with substance abuse problems who are new to treatment. Judy Appel, an attorney who works for the Oakland-based Drug Policy Alliance, which campaigned for Proposition 36, said, "It takes more than one time for most people to get off drugs. The fact that Ventura County has set it up so individuals have a bit of time to get settled into their treatment makes all the public health sense in the world, but it's threatening to prosecutors" (Chawkins, Los Angeles Times, 6/22).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.