In 2000, the voters of California did something remarkable - they voted overwhelmingly (61%) to treat drug offenders rather than imprison them. And so Proposition 36 came into being. An independent review shows that the program saves $2.50 for every $1 spent. Since the program began in 2001, more than 36,000 people have accessed the program. More than half (19,000) have received treatment for methamphetamine addiction, making the program the country’s largest methamphetamine treatment program. And contrary to previous belief that meth addiction was very difficult, if not impossible, to treat, those who are addicted to meth do better than other addicts in the program.
All good news until you start looking at the funding of the program. Since the beginning, it has been woefully underfunded. According to an independent study conducted by researchers at UCLA, which was released in April 2007, the program needs at least $228.6 million to provide adequate services, improve treatment outcomes and increase taxpayer savings. The program did survive an attempt by the Republicans to cut all funding for FY 2008 and stayed at the $120M level.
UCLA researchers arrived at the recommended funding level by analyzing the costs of a series of improvements, including:
- More appropriate treatment placement (eg, residential placement for those severely addicted, $18.9 million);
- Providing a “minimum dose”, or 90 days, of treatment ($31.3 million);
- Expanding access to narcotic replacement therapies, such as methadone and buprenorphine ($3.7 million); and
- Enhancing probation supervision ($25 million).
Using counties’ Prop. 36 spending in FY 2005-06 ($149.7 million) as a baseline, the cost of these changes would require total Prop. 36 funding of $228.6 million.
This figure mirrors the funding recommendation of the County Alcohol and Drug Program Administrators’ Association of California, whose 2007 survey of program administrators found that Prop. 36 needs at least $230 million to “adequately address the treatment needs.”
In their report, the UCLA researchers pointed out that the optimal funding figure for Prop. 36 is still higher. The report notes, “Many potential program enhancements are excluded here, for example, the cost of increasing length of stay in long-term residential treatment, providing ancillary services, or aftercare, all of which have been shown to improve drug treatment outcomes.”
Inadequate funding may already be having a negative impact on the program. Data show that 32.0% of year-three Prop. 36 participants went on to complete treatment. This is two percentage points lower than the completion rate in the program’s first two years: 34.4% and 34.3%, respectively.
Dave Fratello, co-author of Prop. 36, said, “It is remarkable that the state and counties give short shrift to the cheapest, highest-impact reform possible under Prop. 36. For just $3.7 million more per year, UCLA says most heroin and opiate-using clients could get narcotic replacement therapy – the gold standard treatment for this addiction. It is a tragedy that this treatment is so badly under-utilized.”
UCLA found that implementation of Prop. 36 in April 2001, had not resulted in any increases or decreases in crime rates in California. They also found no increase in serious crimes and that offenders in the post-Prop 36 era had fewer re-arrests than those in the pre-Prop 36 era.
Analyses conducted by UCLA show that for every $1 invested in Prop. 36, the state saves $2.50. For program completers, every $1 invested leads to $4 in savings. UCLA put first year (2001-02) savings at $173 million. The Legislative Analyst’s Office has estimated that the state’s $120 million annual investment in Prop. 36 resulted in net savings of $205 million in 2002-03 and $297 million in 2004-05. Conservatively estimating $200 million in savings per year, total program savings in six years surpasses $1.2 billion.
Nearly six years into Prop. 36, the number of people incarcerated for drug possession has fallen by 32% (5,000 people). More than 1,000 Californians on parole complete treatment under Prop. 36 each year instead of going back to prison. By diverting so many into treatment, Prop. 36 rendered unnecessary the construction of a new men’s prison (saving an addition $500 million) and also resulted in the shuttering of a women’s prison. This brings total savings to $1.7 billion.
So, explain to me again why we would consider slashing this funding and why we aren't increasing funding to a level that all of the experts recommend?
The program works, the crime rate is not up, the savings are substantial. Oh, would the reason be the the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the California prison guards' union? CCPOA is a major player in California politics and is widely considered to be one of the most poweral political forces in Sacramento. The CCPOA has no desire to see less prisoners, less prisons built, less jobs for prison guards, etc. etc.
This is ludicrous. We are the voters and we need to start asking some tough questions NOW. I think I am going to start by figuring out who is getting all those political donations from CCPOA. I will keep you posted.
The Sacramento Executive