Proposition 36 Leaves Officials Handling More Hard-Core Addicts than Anticipated
Four months after Proposition 36 took effect, state and local officials are "scrambling" to handle a "clientele that is far more seriously addicted than expected," witnesses told state lawmakers during a hearing yesterday. The Los Angeles Times reports that planners initially thought most nonviolent drug offenders diverted to treatment instead of jail under Proposition 36 would be "low-level users" who needed short-term outpatient therapy. However, the initiative thus far has handled mostly "hard-core" addicts who have multiple convictions and need mental health treatment. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Stephen Manley told lawmakers, "These are clients who need intensive, highly structured residential treatment for a substantial period of time. We simply don't have beds for them, and that's a very serious long-term problem for the state." To prepare for Proposition 36, county officials created outpatient slots for low-level drug addicts. As a result, there are few spots open for the many hard-core addicts being funneled to treatment. For example, in Los Angeles, the wait for a spot in a residential treatment program is four to eight weeks, if not more, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Michael Tynan said. Lael Rubin, special counsel to Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, added, "So we have many of our most severely addicted people sitting on waiting lists and that doesn't help anybody."
It is unclear whether Proposition 36 has made good on its "ambitious promise" to reduce addiction, trim the prison population and send thousands of addicts into recovery programs, the Times reports. Still, some officials said that even though the system is "plagued by kinks," it has sent many addicts into recovery. Chris Geiger of the San Francisco-based recovery program Walden House, said that Proposition 36 "has absolutely been an early success." The state prison population dropped by about 2,400 between July 1, when Proposition 36 took effect, and Nov. 4. Officials said Proposition 36 is "mostly, though not entirely" responsible for the drop. Dan Carson of the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office said that the state is "already starting to achieve some savings because of Proposition 36." The state spends about $25,000 per prisoner per year (Warren, Los Angeles Times, 11/15).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.