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November 13, 2008
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Gov Proposes Budget Cut That Won’t Save State Money

On November 4, Californians failed to pass Proposition 5, the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act (NORA), which would have significantly expanded treatment-instead-of-incarceration in the state – including Proposition 36. What does the failure of Prop. 5 mean? It means that Prop. 36 remains the state’s largest treatment-not-jail program, and that protecting its funding is more important than ever.

Prop. 5 would have guaranteed and stabilized funding for youth treatment and treatment-instead-of-incarceration. Without that guarantee, the struggle for funding has already resumed.

The good news is that treatment-not-incarceration remains the law of the land in California! Failure to pass Prop. 5 does not in any way change the state’s existing Proposition 36 program, which provides treatment (rather than conventional sentencing in jail or prison) to about 36,000 first- or second-time nonviolent, low-level drug possession offenders each year.

The bad news is that, with the state in worse financial shape than ever, treatment funding is already on the chopping block. Alcohol and drug treatment could receive virtually no state funding this budget year. That would force counties to shoulder the burden, which would inevitably lead to interrupted services and lengthy – and costly – litigation battles.

Just weeks after the end of an unsuccessful campaign to pass Prop. 5, supporters of alcohol and drug treatment have another crucial battle on their hands: to support a tax to fund services.

Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed a 5¢-per-drink tax on alcohol. This could bring in as much as $293 million in 2008-09 and $585 million in 2009-10 for treatment services, according to the governor’s office. (Read more about the governor’s proposal here.)

Even if the tax is approved, however, it is unclear whether that revenue would be guaranteed to go towards treatment – or whether it might end up in other services.

Treatment advocates continue to remind legislators that treatment is an investment that pays off immediately in lower incarceration costs. California has clear evidence that Proposition 36 has cut incarceration costs – and that reducing the level of services threatens the success of the program in terms of both lives and savings.

Since being enacted by voters in November 2000, Prop. 36 has delivered on its promises. It has:

Expanded treatment capacity. There are now 66% more licensed treatment programs in California than before Prop. 36; overall capacity increased 132% in 3 years.

Placed about 36,000 people per year in treatment. Prop. 36 has provided a treatment option to more than 200,000 people, often the first chance these people have had.

Achieved a treatment completion rate of about one-third. This rate is impressive in its own right, and also compares favorably against other systems. UCLA reports that, in 2003-04, Prop. 36 participants completed treatment at the rate of 32%, against 37% for other criminal justice referrals, including drug courts.

Sharply reduced the number of drug offenders in prison. In the 12 years prior to Prop. 36, the number of people in state prison for drug possession quadrupled, reaching 20,116 in June 2000. That number dropped by a third shortly after Prop. 36 took effect, and remained lower by 6,046 (31%) as of December 2007.

Saved almost $2 billion. For every $1 invested in Prop. 36, the state saves a net $2 to $4 mostly on incarceration savings, according to UCLA researchers. Average per-person treatment costs are about $3,300, while incarceration costs $46,000 per year. UCLA calculated that the program saved a net $173 million its first year; The Legislative Analyst Office put annual savings for later years at $200-300 million. In addition, one new prison that was planned was never built after Prop. 36. Prop. 36 savings have reached nearly $2 billion in 7 years.


Common Sense for Drug Policy
California Society of Addiction Medicine
California State Association of Counties

Read commentary from Oliver H., a Prop 36 graduate.

Get the Facts
Over a dozen Proposition 36 fact sheets are available for download. Topics include: the Effectiveness of Drug Treatment, Drug Courts/Deferred Entry, and the California Correctional System.
breakdowns of the 2000 initiative votes
For background on the Prop. 36 campaign and other votes nationwide for drug policy reform, see:

Contact Lists
County Lead Agencies
and Contacts
Parole Region Contact
Probation Contacts



Drug Policy Alliance · (916) 444-3751 · [email protected]