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UCLA Report on Prop 36 Provides Window into Prop 5

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Proposition 5, the Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act, on the California ballot this year, significantly expands on Proposition 36, the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, passed in California in 2000 by 61% of voters. In this regard, it is quite timely that this month, the UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Program released its 2008 report on the progress of Proposition 36 (link to .pdf of report). Prop 36 allows first and second time non-violent, simple drug possession offenders the opportunity to receive substance abuse treatment instead of incarceration.

The pros:

  • More than 30,000 drug offenders entered treatment each year (instead of prison), and half were first time nonviolent drug offenders.
  • Taxpayers have saved around $2 for each $1 spent in the program -- what amounts to several million dollars since Prop 36's implementation.
  • Among those who completed treatment, the rates of arrests for nonviolent crimes decreased.
  • And violent crime arrests decreased more in California than nationally since the prop's implementation.

The cons:

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  • The proposition's success has been undermined by inadequate funding, and a further 10% cut to funding by Gov Schwarzenegger during the state's fiscal problems.
  • About 1/2 of participants in the outpatient setting dropped out of treatment after 90 days (although this was consistent with other outpatient treatment settings in the nation).
  • Non-violent drug and property crimes were higher among Prop 36 participants than among a comparison group of drug offenders before Prop 36 was introduced (however, the study authors note that this may be skewed by data showing that before Prop 36, more drug offenders were sentenced to prison and so were unable to commit a repeat drug offense).