Commentary: No Jail For Addicts

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, March 10, 2006

So Proposition 36 hasn't worked as well as proponents said it would. No surprise there. Even before it became law, there were too few treatment programs for addicts who voluntarily sought help.

Prop 36 dumped 200,000 more patients on to already long waiting lists. Hundreds of new taxpayer-funded drug treatment programs sprang up with little or no guidance from the state. Success rates were - well spotty. Even today, standards for treatment counselors are almost non-existent.

Before anyone moves to repeal or stop funding Prop 36 - consider the alternative. Putting addicts in prison has been an enormously expensive failure. Sure, Prop 36 needs fixing. But it's still a useful - I would even say necessary - option.

Addicts who fail to show up for treatment as ordered by the courts should face serious and certain consequences. But not jail. Mandatory weekend work details or escalating fines would allow addicts to keep their jobs, support their families, and help nudge them into treatment.

There are no easy answers. Anyone who has ever fought drug or alcohol addiction knows it is a life long struggle. Proposition 36 is just five year old. Fix it, and give it a chance to grow.


Ginger Rutland writes for the Sacramento Bee Opinion pages.