Delay In Prison Budget Presents Opportunity To Enact Cost-Saving Reforms

July 24, 2009
Contact: Rodney Foo @ (408) 282-8920
Effective substance abuse treatment can cut California's 70 percent recidivism rate

In 2000, Proposition 36 was passed by 61 percent of Californians who cast ballots. Under Proposition 36, about 200,000 first- and second-time, low-level drug offenders got treatment instead of a trip to prison, saving the state more than $2 billion. But despite its success, $110 million in funding for Proposition 36’s drug treatment has been axed as a result of California’s $26.3 billion deficit.

“We can’t retreat from the progress made by Proposition 36,’’ said Assemblymember Jim Beall, Jr., chairman of the Select Committee on Alcohol and Drug Abuse. “More than ever, now is the time for the Governor to take action and make changes that can save taxpayer dollars before the Legislature takes up the prison trailer bill.

“The state can’t release inmates with substance abuse addictions on the streets without providing treatment services. We just took billions from the counties so we know they won’t have money to pay for treatment.’’

Beall suggests the Governor consider adopting a recommendation by the Legislative Analyst’s Office to save $500 million to $1 billion in incarceration costs by not incarcerating low-level and non-violent drug offenders and not revoke parole for technical violations, which can save another $135 million in paroles costs.

In addition, Beall said, “I urge the Governor to follow the Legislature’s recommendation and protect $50 million in federal stimulus dollars from the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grant that can be used for Proposition 36’s Offender Treatment Program. This will help backfill  the millions the Governor just cut from the program.’’

Studies show millions can be saved in criminal justice costs by providing substance abuse treatment. A Washington State analysis of more than 10,200 people before and after receiving publicly funded substance abuse treatment showed a 21 percent decline in the number of clients being arrested for a felony or a gross misdemeanor following treatment.

“Providing wider access to substance abuse treatment, whether through private or public means, is the key to preventing problems,’’ Beall said. He cited Assembly Bill 244, legislation requiring all health insurers to provide treatment of mental illnesses and substance abuse addictions equitable to coverage provided for other medical illnesses, as an effective way to combat addictions that can lead to criminal behavior.