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California Slashes Proposition 36 Funding

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State law in California requires that nonviolent drug offenders be given the opportunity to attend treatment rather than go to prison, but the fallout from the state's recent budget crisis could mean that many won't be able to access services.

The San Jose Mercury News reported July 29 that the recent budget agreement between state lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger includes slashing Proposition 36 treatment funding from $108 million annually to $18 million. The voter-approved initiative established the treatment-alternative-to-prison program in 2001.

“The courts are still obligated to push the people into treatment, knowing that the funds, the programs, the services aren't there,” said Haven Fearn, director of the Contra Costa County Health Services Department's Alcohol and Other Drug Services Division. “That's the craziness that everyone is having to deal with … What's the answer to that?”

Experts predicted long waiting lists for treatment, with offenders left free until a slot opens for them. Criminal-justice referrals could also end up accounting for most or all of the treatment slots available, observers said.

“It's sort of silly, it's awfully close to having just eliminated the program,” said Gary Spicer, management services director at the Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services Agency. “You get down to such a core level that it's of very little use to most people … What you wind up with is a treatment delivery system that's monopolized by judicial referrals and no longer available at the community level.”

State officials are trying to shift $45 million in federal stimulus funding to Prop 36, but the move is considered a longshot.

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