Cough-Syrup-AddictionBudget cuts are common throughout many states across the country and reforms are being made to save money. Ironically, some of these financial reforms have increased the efficiency of the programs whose budgets were cut. Imprisoning drug offenders has cost many states large sums of money across the country. California has made revolutionary moves to treat drug offenders, as opposed to imprisoning them. Proposition 36 was passed on November 7, 2000, with nearly 61% of the vote, to go into effect on July 1, 2001 with an annual allocation of $120 million to fund treatment.


The Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act of 2000, referred to as Prop 36, is a statute that permanently altered state law in California to allow certain drug offenders to serve a modified probation in lieu of a prison sentence. Offenders must complete drug addiction treatment as part of the program. There are several factors determine program eligibility. The following are grounds for exclusion:

  • Being convicted of a violent or serious felony within five years or a non-drug related crime at the same proceeding
  • Violent offenses
  • Being in possession of a firearmand narcotics simultaneously
  • Refusing treatment
  • Having two prior drug related convictions
  • Participation in Proposition 36 twice previously
  • Having been found by the court system to be beyond the scope of available treatment
  • Effectiveness

UCLA was commissioned to complete several studies on the economics of Prop 36 and its impact on the judicial system. They found that for every dollar spent there was $2.50 saved. During the first year alone this amounted to $275 million, according to the Drug Policy Alliance and the Campaign for New Drug Policies. Over a five year period this has saved California’s taxpayers over $1.3 billion.

Prop 36 is sending over 36,000 Californians to treatment facilities; Most of these offenders would have been serving prison sentences. Regardless of the immediate outcome, this exposure to treatment has long-term benefits.Offenders who complete treatment are significantly less likely to re-offend than those who leave treatment or don’t go at all.

Only about 34% of participants in the program have completed it successfully. UCLA attributes this to under funding and the relatively poor quality of treatment. In order to provide effective treatment, UCLA estimates the system will need an additional $228.6 million. A recent study concluded that participants are now more likely to be re-arrested than they were prior to 2001, when Prop 36 went into effect.

The growing acceptance of the disease model of addiction has aided recent treatment efforts. Surveys done by the Open Society Institute found that 63% of Americans consider drug abuse an issue that should be dealt with therapeutically as opposed to through the criminal justice system. These beliefs are slowly altering drug policy toward efficiency.