Skip to comments.Lock up versus clean up (Denying Human nature)
Posted on 11/20/2005 10:55:55 AM PST by radar101
San Joaquin County drug offenders increasingly opt for jail terms instead of accepting drug treatment under Proposition 36. And of those who opt for rehab, fewer are showing up for it, according to county data.
Voters passed Proposition 36 in November 2000. The law offers nonviolent drug offenders -- such as those caught possessing drugs or paraphernalia -- treatment instead of jail time. The program lasts 12 months and allows two slip-ups.
The drug offenders who refuse treatment are a minority in San Joaquin County. Of the 1,258 people eligible for Proposition 36 rehab during the last fiscal year, just 110 rejected the offer.
But the rate of people declining treatment has increased faster than the rate of those who qualify for Proposition 36 programs.
About 1.7 percent of those eligible for treatment declined during the 2001-02 fiscal year. During 2004-05, 8.7 percent rejected the treatment offer.
Put another way, the percentage of people declining treatment has jumped fivefold in just four years.
They're people like former cocaine addict Mitch Badue. The 45-year-old Stockton man said he refused Proposition 36 drug treatment more than half a dozen times before relenting last year. The local drug-court judge even knew Badue on a first-name basis.
"It's been a long haul," he said. "Before I got clean, I had given up."
According to Helen Ellis, the county's Proposition 36 coordinator, Badue isn't unusual -- offenders may reject treatment several times before accepting help.
Once they're in treatment, about 30 percent of clients successfully complete the program. Half the people who seek treatment are doing so for the first time, according to a study released in August from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Still, it's not a "get-out-of-jail-free card," Ellis said.
Many drug offenders know chances are good they'll get out of jail before their sentences expire. Law enforcement officials say many drug offenders are let out early because of overcrowding at the San Joaquin and Calaveras county jails.
"It's not something that is deterring persons from using drugs," said Deputy Rex Yturri, president of the San Joaquin County Deputy's Association. "We're seeing the same people over and over again coming through the system."
Judges know that, too.
"I know if I put them in jail, they're going to be out in a short amount of time, and there's no impact," said San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Anthony Luccachini, who hears drug cases.
But that doesn't mean the system is flawed, he said.
"Even a 5 percent greater success rate translates to millions of dollars in savings," Luccachini said. "Yes, it's got some flaws, but the concept is good.
Badue's son was murdered in the Bay Area in 2003. That's what it took for him to want to live cocaine free, he said.
"I lost it," he said. "Sending me to prison made me not want to go back to prison."
Badue now works as a forklift operator and describes his current, drug-free life as "heaven." He recently finished treatment at an inpatient recovery house in Stockton.
More than 51 percent of San Joaquin County voters -- and 61 percent of voters statewide -- approved the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act in November 2000.
Officials with the Drug Policy Alliance, a group that supports alternatives to incarcerating drug offenders, insist the law saves money, reduces illegal drug demand and creates more productive taxpayers.
The program is "such a realistic way of dealing with nonviolent drug offenders," said Kristine Eagle, a local attorney who has defended drug offenders for 16 years. "It built in the idea that, 'Yeah, these people fail, sometimes a lot.' "
San Joaquin County's Proposition 36 program offers education and job training in addition to addiction counseling. Some people aren't eligible for Proposition 36 treatment, including drug dealers.
Eagle said she was surprised to hear that more people are opting for jail sentences.
"People almost always take advantage of it, and there's not really a lot to lose," Eagle said.
Detractors argue that the law, despite good intentions, doesn't always work.
"A person has to want to get through those drug programs," Stockton Police Department Lt. Joseph Rocha said. "It's going to fail for some and be successful for others."
The group Repeal Prop 36 Fund wants to get rid of the law altogether.
"They said our jails are filled with nonviolent drug offenders," said Linda Taylor, executive director of the Turlock-based organization. "We believe the nonviolent drug offender doesn't exist."
Taylor is guardian to three teenagers whose parents were drug users, and she has "come across hundreds of children who have horror stories to tell of parents using drugs," she said.
"You have to hold people accountable for their actions, and under Prop 36, they're not held accountable," Taylor said. "It's a fairy tale. It's not going to work. It's never going to work."
Both Ellis and Luccachini acknowledge the program needs more funding to succeed.
Placing someone in a residential drug treatment program costs taxpayers thousands less than sending them to jail, Ellis said.
Putting someone in the County Jail for a year costs about $36,268. Outpatient drug treatment costs up to $1,250.
The county pays some costs, but patients may opt for more intensive treatment if they pay a portion.
State funding for county Proposition 36 programs expires June 30. Yet, counties still will be required to deliver treatment and related services after June 30, according to the California State Association of Counties. A bill by Sen. Denise Moreno Ducheny, D-San Diego, would allow incarcerations for offenders who fail drug tests or don't show up for treatment. The bill, SB803, also continues funding through the fiscal year 2010-11.
The legislation is currently tied up in the Assembly.
Former addicts such as Stockton resident Dawn Durham, 31, say the program is worth it.
She used methamphetamine for six years before she was jailed in May for trying to pass a bad check. She had started using the drug to lose weight eight months after her daughter was born.
"It was like a party," Durham said. And "it was a great way to stay skinny."
She'd snort it, smoke it, inject it. Surgeons removed her gall bladder in 2000 because of drug damage, Durham said.
After serving a brief jail term for the bad check, Durham still qualified for Proposition 36 treatment because of a previous paraphernalia conviction, she said.
She took the treatment. Now, she relies on sit-ups -- not drugs -- to stay thin. She's hopeful that her boyfriend, now in prison on a parole violation, will stay off meth, too.
"My life has been a 180-degree turn," said Durham, who works almost full time at a retail clothing store. "Without Proposition 36, I wouldn't have any of the pride I have at this moment."
Contact reporter Yasmin Assemi at 209 546-8272 or firstname.lastname@example.org