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Addressing Your State's Budget Crisis: Treatment Instead of Incarceration

As states across the nation struggle to balance unwieldy budgets, there is a growing trend to make criminal justice reforms that both save money and increase public safety. The emergence of a national movement in favor of treating, rather than incarcerating, nonviolent drug offenders has garnered the attention and support of legislators and the public across the country. By taking a public health approach toward handling drug offenders, policymakers are saving their states millions of dollars with policies that are proven to be more effective in reducing drug abuse and crime than the failed 'lock 'em up' approach. In a recent survey sponsored by the Open Society Institute, "Changing Attitudes Toward the Criminal Justice System," 63% of Americans consider drug abuse a problem that should be addressed primarily through counseling and treatment, rather than the criminal justice system.

Experts from the Drug Policy Alliance and the Campaign for New Drug Policies estimate that California saved at least $275 million in taxpayer money during the first year of enforcement of Proposition 36. Extraordinary efforts are underway in other states, such as Maryland, to divert nonviolent offenders to treatment.

Other States


In 1996, Arizonans voted in favor of Proposition 200, the Drug Medicalization Prevention and Control Act of 1996, which sends first and second time nonviolent drug offenders to treatment rather than incarceration. According to a recent report conducted by the Supreme Court of Arizona, Proposition 200 saved Arizona taxpayers $6.7 million in 1999. In addition, 62% of probationers successfully completed the drug treatment ordered by the court.


Maryland's new treatment law immediately diverts several thousand prisoners into drug treatment, saving the state's taxpayers millions of dollars a year in the process. It also provides $3 million in additional funding for treatment and gives judges new discretion in sentencing.

New York

New York state recently announced that three planned prison closings, made possible by the state shifting almost 7,000 nonviolent drug offenders from prison to drug treatment over a three-year period, will save the state a projected $18 million.

Unfortunately, the announcement was premature. This move was proposed by the Governor, but denied by the legislature.

Additional Resources

"Poor Prescription: The Costs of Imprisoning Drug Offenders in the United States," The Justice Policy Institute, 2000.

"Cutting Correctly: New Prison Policies for Times of Fiscal Crisis," The Justice Policy Institute, 2003.

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]