A program enacted by California voters that steers drug offenders to treatment instead of jail has been so badly managed that it has “compromised public safety and health,” charged a report by a Ventura County grand jury. The Los Angeles Times said the report echoes observations by local law enforcement officials, who say the county’s Proposition 36 drug treatment effort may have contributed to an increase in crime. “Everyone in law enforcement wants to see drug offenders treated and change their behavior,” said District Attorney Greg Totten. “But if you strictly focus on a touchy-feely social services treatment model, it doesn’t take into account the danger these people can pose.”
Officials of the county’s Behavioral Health Department, which runs the 3-year-old program, have called it a success, saying that initial cure rates seemed low because substance abusers new to treatment frequently backslide. The grand jury said the health agency has put the best face on a dismal record, becoming “the lone agency continuing to declare itself victorious in the county’s war on drugs.” Criticisms have been voiced by prosecutors elsewhere, said Judy Appel of the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group that campaigned for Proposition 36. “They want to squeeze it into a criminal justice framework, with lots of court dates, as much disclosure of confidential information as possible and a big hammer to swing over their heads,” she said.