Budget Cut That Won’t Save State
On November 4, Californians
failed to pass Proposition 5, the
Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation
Act (NORA), which would have significantly
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
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
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 –
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
more about the governor’s
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
• 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
• 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
• 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.