To a Speedy Recovery

In 2000, Californians passed an experimental ballot initiative
known as
Proposition 36 (pdf) in an attempt to deal
with prisons overcrowded by nonviolent drug offenders. Now, five
years after it went into effect, drug-related incarcerations are
down and hundreds of thousands of drug offenders have been
admitted to treatment programs . Writing for
East Bay Express, Kara Platoni reports
that while backers of ‘Prop. 36’ are lauding its successes, the
California government is more critical of its shortcomings (more
than two-thirds of participants never complete treatment) and is
pushing revisions that call for more jail-time.

Drawn up by the Berkeley office of the nonprofit
Drug Policy
(DPA), Prop. 36 set out to remove addicts from ‘the
legal system’s revolving door.’ The initiative tries to address
addicts’ propensity for relapses, and gives participants three
chances at treatment before sending them to jail. Because the tab
for treatment courses is a tenth of the cost of imprisonment, the
program saves the government money while sparing participants the
social stigma of doing time. ‘Prison can exacerbate addiction or
the mental health problems that may accompany it,’ says DPA’s
director of legal affairs, Daniel Abrahamson. ‘There’s no such
thing as a drug-free jail in California.’ Once outside prison, the
newly released encounter problems finding employment, housing, and
getting into college programs, which may ultimately turn them back
to a life of drugs.

While Prop. 36 may be keeping addicts out of prison, naysayers
say it’s not keeping them off drugs. The critics’ common refrain is
that the initiative has a ‘street reputation as a ‘get out jail
free’ card,’ and is ‘all carrot and no stick,’ Platoni writes.
Santa Clara County judge Stephen Manley is convinced that the
threat of imprisonment is the ‘realistic way to deal with addicts
who live in the moment.’ Manley co-chaired a committee to draw up
legislative revisions to Prop. 36, including a two-day jail term
for the first violation of the program and five days for the
second. The new legislation, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger
in July, was only in effect one day before the DPA won a temporary
restraining order blocking it. The legislation is set for court
review Sept. 14. The DPA is especially critical of revised
approach, saying it ‘[penalizes] relapses, which are a normal part
of the recovery process,’ and continues to view addiction as
criminal, rather than a medical problem. — Rachel

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To a Speedy Recovery

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