California Sees Greatest Drop In Drug Prisoners Among Large State Prison Systems

The Justice Policy Institute issued findings today about Prop 36, the California ballot initiative that mandated non-violent drug offenders be offered the opportunity for treatment before incarceration.

Some of the key findings by researchers are:

  • The rate of incarceration for drug-possession offenses has gone from 89 per 100,000 California adults in December 2000 to 58 in December 2005—a 34.3 percent decrease.
  • While opponents of the initiative warned that Proposition 36 might lead to an increase in violent crime, California’s violent crime rate has declined since 2000 at a rate higher than the national average.
  • Since 2000, spending on drug treatment in California doubled.
  • Since 2000, California has experienced a larger increase in drug treatment clients than the rest of the country.
  • Proposition 36 and drug court completion rates are comparable.
  • The effectiveness of using incarceration to prevent drug use and treatment relapse is not conclusive.
  • Proposition 36 is saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars.

The ballot initiative’s funding expires this year, so we should be hearing more about the outcomes of the initiative in the coming months. There was a lot of criticism 5 years ago, but I hear much less now. Hopefully this experiment will provide a path out of the war on drugs.