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Proposition 36

Passed by voters in California 2000, Proposition 36, or the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, allows first- and second-time nonviolent offenders to get treatment for drug abuse instead of going straight into the criminal justice system. As one of the country’s most popular and controversial drug diversion initiatives, Prop 36 helps more than 36,000 California residents get addiction treatment every year, according the state’s Drug Policy Alliance.

How Drug Diversion Helps Offenders

Drug diversion or deferred entry programs are based on the idea that addiction treatment for certain nonviolent drug offenders is a more compassionate, cost-effective alternative to incarceration. Sending nonviolent offenders to jail is expensive and may be counterproductive, driving them further into the prison system without giving them a chance to get help for their addiction.

Probation and treatment allow defendants to get the help they need while continuing to live in the community, care for their families and avoid jail time if they complete their plan of treatment successfully. Prop 36 applies to three classes of offenders:

  1. People who have never been convicted of possessing or using drugs before, and who are not being accused of selling, distributing or manufacturing drugs
  2. People who are currently on probation for drug possession or illicit drug use
  3. People who are on parole who violate their parole agreement by committing a nonviolent drug offense

The Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act allows California judges to order probation and treatment for offenders who fall into these categories. If you’re convicted of an eligible drug crime, the court will give you the opportunity to complete a treatment program that lasts for up to 12 months. During that time, you’ll be on probation while you receive supervised care for substance abuse. You also have the option to refuse treatment.

Prop 36 doesn’t give drug offenders a free ride. While you may avoid incarceration, you have to meet the conditions of the court’s drug treatment program. Before you commit to the program, you’ll be evaluated by an addiction professional in your county to determine which approach to recovery best suits your needs. Treatment options may include state-licensed outpatient facilities or residential rehabilitation centers. Narcotic replacement therapy is also available. For six months after completing treatment, you must receive follow-up care in the community, which may involve vocational programs, mentorship training and relapse prevention education.

As you complete your treatment plan, you’ll be required to meet the judge’s conditions, which could include:

  • Regular meetings with a case manager
  • Appearances in court
  • Paying for part of the costs of your treatment
  • Abstinence from drugs or alcohol
  • Drug screening
  • Vocational counseling
  • Literacy training
  • Family or group therapy

Depending on the county where you live and the specifics of your treatment plan, there may be conditions imposed on your social activities, your choice of a residence and the way you spend your time. Your probation can be revoked if you don’t meet the conditions of your plan. On the positive side, if you complete the program successfully, the charges against you may be dismissed.

*Proposition 36 Treatment Statistics

Who’s getting treatment under Proposition 36, and how many offenders are completing their treatment plans? The University of California at Los Angeles compiled this data on behalf of the state’s Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs:

  • Approximately 50,000 offenders were offered treatment under Prop 36 in 2005-2006.
  • Of those offenders offered treatment, 71 percent agreed to receive it.
  • About 50 percent of the offenders admitted to treatment reported that this was the first time they had received rehabilitation services.
  • Of those who opted for treatment, 84 percent received outpatient treatment without drug replacement therapy.
  • Of those treated, 57 percent of offenders were admitted to treatment for meth use; 13.1 percent for crack; 12.5 percent for marijuana; and 8 percent for heroin.

Prop 36 Opposition

Proposition 36 wasn’t passed without a lot of controversy, and the program continues to face threats from its opponents. A lack of funding for Prop 36 treatment programs and controversies about county spending have posed obstacles to the law’s implementation. According to a summary of the act prepared by the California Attorney General in 2000, opponents claim that:

  • Prop 36 decriminalizes dangerous drugs like heroin, crack, meth and PCP by mandating probation instead of jail time for certain defendants.
  • Nonviolent drug offenders who are on probation may engage in violent crime if they relapse or continue to associate with dealers and other criminals.
  • The law misleads children into thinking that they can commit drug-related offenses without worrying about going to jail.
  • The law undermines the state’s existing drug courts, which have successfully diverted nonviolent offenders out of the criminal justice system.

Opponents of Prop 36 believe that it’s not tough enough, that it lets drug offenders off the hook and that it sends a dangerous message to future generations. But for many of the offenders who’ve been given a chance at recovery instead of jail time, Prop 36 has been a lifesaver.

How Can I Get Treatment Under Prop 36?

If you’re convicted for the first time of possession, transportation or distribution of drugs for personal use in California, or if you’re on probation or parole and you meet the law’s eligibility requirements, the court must give you a chance to get treatment. If you believe that you deserve to receive treatment but you haven’t been given a fair shot, consult an attorney, judge or court official about your options. Prop 36 made it a priority to place public health over punishment by making drug treatment available to thousands of California offenders.

When it comes to choosing a treatment program under Prop 36, you can take an active role in your own future by participating in your treatment plan. Get to know the services that you have available. Ask questions about any aspects of treatment that you don’t understand. Many first- and second-time offenders have used this opportunity to turn their lives around.