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INITIATIVE SAVING LIVES - AND MONEY PROP. 36 SHOWING THAT TREATMENT FOR DRUG OFFENDERS IS THE WAY TO GO.

Byline: Judy Appel

JENNIFER Vasquez is a single mother of three. She was homeless, and her children had been placed in foster care when she was arrested for drug possession. Under California's landmark Proposition 36, the treatment-instead-of-incarceration initiative that voters passed in 2000, she was offered the option of treatment instead of incarceration.

Vasquez is one of thousands of Californians who have begun putting their lives back together after receiving treatment under Proposition 36. After starting treatment, she moved off the streets and was able get her children back from foster care. The day that her case was dismissed, she rented her own apartment. She now holds a steady full-time job.

Jennifer Vasquez would still be homeless - or worse - and her kids would be in a foster home if she hadn't gotten treatment. The cycle of addiction that destroys families and often leads to incarceration has a huge social cost beyond individual devastation: Prison, foster care, hospital stays. That cycle can only be broken by giving people a chance at treatment, instead of pushing them through the revolving door of prison again and again.

Jennifer Vasquez is not alone. Proposition 36 has helped reclaim the lives of tens of thousands of other Californians with substance-abuse problems - nearly 50 percent of whom are receiving it for the first time, according to a major UCLA study of the impact of Proposition 36. According to that state-commissioned report, this historic initiative has yielded excellent results during its first two years of implementation.

The findings in the UCLA report include:

--66,416 people have accessed drug treatment in the first two years since Proposition 36 passed.

--Proposition 36 clients are succeeding in treatment at rates similar to those of clients in other diversion programs, such as drug courts.

--Approximately half of all Proposition 36 participants in each of the first two years were entering drug treatment for the first time.

--A majority of Proposition 36 outpatient clients received at least 90 days of treatment. (Treatment experts generally consider 90 days to be enough time to start seeing positive results.)

The UCLA evaluation confirms the wisdom of passing Proposition 36 in 2000, when Californians recognized that imprisoning nonviolent drug users had both failed to deter drug use and was costing the state hundreds of millions of dollars. They passed one of the most significant pieces of sentencing reform anywhere in the country since the end of Prohibition - diverting first- and second-time nonviolent drug possession offenders into drug treatment instead of incarceration.

Still, the UCLA study was not an unqualified endorsement of the proposition - it highlighted several areas for improvement. The report found that many people are not being referred to the specific kind of treatment programs they need. For example, the authors predicted that treatment completion and duration would likely improve for heroin-using clients if methadone was available to all who desire it. Additionally, some who needed residential treatment were not placed in this high-intensity treatment due to lack of availability.

While there is room for improvement, Proposition 36's results are encouraging. The initiative has created healthy alternatives to drug misuse - and costly imprisonment - for thousands of people, and Californians recognize a winning hand. According to a recent poll sponsored by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency and conducted by the Field Research Corporation, 73 percent of California voters would now vote for Proposition 36, up from the 61 percent of voters who passed the initiative in 2000.

The next year and a half will offer an opportunity not only to protect, but to expand on early successes. The original initiative allowed for $120 million per year for five years of implementation - funding that is due to run out in July 2006. It is imperative that we make clear to our policy-makers that Proposition 36 is not only saving money, it is saving lives.
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Title Annotation:Editorial
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Oct 11, 2004
Words:640
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