Convicted drug users in California are more likely to be arrested on new drug charges since Proposition 36 took effect than before voters approved the landmark law mandating drug treatment rather than incarceration, according a long-awaited study released Friday.
The state-funded study, conducted by UCLA researchers who have pored over four years of drug-related court cases, raises new questions about the effectiveness of Proposition 36 at a time when lawmakers and courts are discussing stricter requirements for defendants.
UCLA researchers tracking drug offenders found high levels of new drug arrests among those eligible in the first year of Proposition 36, which took effect in 2001. About 50% of those offenders were picked up by police within 30 months, compared with 38% of similar offenders convicted before Proposition 36.
The report notes that some increases in arrests were expected because Proposition 36 left offenders on the street who would have previously served time.
But the research also underscores the difficulty the state has experienced in getting drug offenders into treatment and out of trouble.
Only about 25% of the defendants who are sentenced to drug treatment complete the programs. And data released Friday show that even among those who complete drug treatment, more than four in 10 had new drug arrests within 30 months of their Proposition 36 convictions.
The numbers are worse for those who don’t finish drug treatment. Researchers were surprised to find that those who failed to show up for rehab were less likely to be rearrested than those who went to some treatment but dropped out: 55% compared with 60%.
Supporters of Proposition 36 said the report shows how hard it is to treat a chronic disease like drug addiction but argue that the obvious conclusion is that more intensive treatment services are needed.
The UCLA study offered several recommendations for improving Proposition 36, options researchers said should be bundled together to improve results:
• Place more drug defendants in long-term treatment programs, including inpatient care, at an estimated cost of $19 million a year.
• Provide at least 90 days of treatment to all offenders, at a cost of $18 million a year. The length of treatment now varies widely, with many receiving far less than 90 days.
• Provide higher levels of narcotic replacement therapy for opiate users, at an annual cost of at least $3.7 million.
• Significantly increase community supervision — particularly for offenders who enter Proposition 36 probation with multiple previous convictions — at an annual cost of about $25 million.
It ‘s disappointing to hear these outcomes, but it isn’t surprising if the compliance monitoring is weak and treatment is often less than 90 days. Research has found that treatment needs to last at least 90 days to be effective.