Rehabilitation program fails to help users kick the habit

By Kasey Minnick
April 19, 2007

Charlotte Observer/MCT

Proposition 36, which went into effect July 1, 2001, is one of the hottest topics between legislators and those not abiding by the law in California.

Proposition 36 is a program that when people are convicted of drug possession, they can get three chances to complete rehabilitation and kick their addictions before a judge can send them to prison, according to the Los Angeles Times.

What is most problematic about this seven-year-old program is that nearly half of the offenders sentenced fail to complete rehabilitation and more than a quarter do not even show up for their treatment. Because of these high letdown rates, critics are now beginning to speak up and express their disgust. They believe that in return for these lawbreakers not attending their classes, they should head behind bars as their punishment.

Ryan Barrett, a sophomore exercise science major, said, “These people should have to go through rehab and complete it the first time. If they don’t, then they should go to jail. Why should they get three chances?”

With critics like these, it is no wonder Proposition 36 faced many challenges early in its development. This plan gave most nonviolent offenders convicted of drug possession the option to enter treatment rather than jail or prison. Since this started in 2001, about 50,000 people have entered the program each year. Half of those did not even receive treatment as of yet, according to the Los Angeles Times.

This is when another problem arises. Those that truly need the help are not even getting it first. More than half of the defendants reported using drugs for longer than a decade according to the evaluations by University of California, Los Angeles. Some had even spent lifetimes in and out of the slammer, but those are the people still awaiting their chance for help.

Even Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California demanded that judges have the right to jail defendants for short periods if they continue to use drugs or fail to enroll in treatment, according to the Los Angeles Times.

In response to Schwarzeneggers’ comments, Proposition 36 supporters sued him and even put the governor’s proposal on hold. In yet another response, the governor is now intending to cut the program’s funding altogether.

There are many pros and cons when it comes to this law. Critics say this cannot succeed because it lacks meaningful sanctions to push defendants in the right direction. On the other hand, supporters think that dealing with jail terms, however small amount of time, would hint at a shift away from treating drugs as a health problem and success rates would lower if funding cuts would take place.

Scott Gillespie, a sophomore criminology major, said, “They should go right to prison because if they aren’t going to rehab after the first time, they aren’t ever going to go.”

Joseph M. Windt, a sophomore criminology major, said, “As long as people are given the chance to help themselves, they should take advantage of that opportunity. They should be able to have three strikes in order to learn how to resolve their drug habits because if you throw them into prison, once they get out, they will be right back on the streets where they started.”

A drug offender in the California area, Alexander Santillan, said, “Every time I’d get arrested, I knew I’ve got three more chances coming to jail.”

Santillan, who was convicted in three cases of drug possession, was considered free under Proposition 36. Santillan said he treated jail after each arrest as a chance to recuperate before hitting the streets again, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Because of people like this, opponents feel this is another detriment to the society.

Angela Hawken, a UCLA research economist, said, “We’re wasting our money and we’re really putting our community in jeopardy by having them on the streets.”

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Kasey Minnick

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