The most comprehensive assessment of California’s effort to treat drug users rather than jail them has found that nearly half of offenders sentenced under the program fail to complete rehab and more than a quarter never show up for treatment, reports the Los Angeles Times. The high failure rates have prompted a growing number of critics to call for jail sanctions for defendants they say take advantage of the program’s lack of penalties.
Voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 36 in November 2000. Under it, most people convicted of drug possession get three chances to complete rehab and kick their addictions before a judge can send them to prison. The initiative has cost California more than $600 million. By diverting thousands of nonviolent drug offenders from lockups, the measure has reduced the burden on prisons and saved the state $2.50 for every $1 spent, says a UCLA study. Researchers have analyzed each of the nearly 100,000 defendants who went through the program in its first two years. The large number of dropouts and no-shows has led judges, researchers, and treatment providers to complain that voters expected more for their money. “For the lay voter, I’m sure they thought, ‘If you build it they will come,’ and that you would have close to probably a 75% or higher success rate,” said Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ana Maria Luna, who leads a committee on Proposition 36 issues. “We just haven’t seen that anywhere in the state.”