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May 14, 2009 -- Drug Policy Alliance (US)

CA: Governor's Budget Ends Incarceration for Nonviolent Drug Offenses, Focuses on Greater Public Safety Priorities

Cutting Treatment Dollars Will Harm Tens of Thousands Each Year, Warn Treatment Advocates

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For Immediate Release: Thursday, May 14, 2009. Contact: Margaret Dooley-Sammuli (213) 291-4190 or Tommy McDonald (510) 229-5215

SACRAMENTO -- The administration's revised budget released today proposes reducing the number of nonviolent drug offenders in the criminal justice system.

One budget-related move, the elimination of all drug treatment funding for nonviolent drug possession offenders, goes much further -- it would mean tens of thousands of nonviolent users each year would face no possibility of incarceration in jail or prison.

"By reducing some drug penalties and by eliminating funding for Prop. 36, the administration would ensure that fewer people could be sent to jail or prison for a drug possession offense," said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, the Drug Policy Alliance's deputy state director in Southern California.

"We applaud the administration for recognizing that we shouldn't be spending our increasingly scarce resources to incarcerate low-level drug offenders. But what about treatment? Wiping out these services will wreak major human damage and could prove very costly in the long run."

Under Prop. 36, enacted by voters in November 2000, no one can be incarcerated for a simple drug possession offense unless they have first been given a chance at state licensed/certified treatment.

Gov. Schwarzenegger proposes ending funding for such treatment. Self-help or group therapy programs do not meet the legal criteria in Prop. 36 to qualify as "treatment."

People who are arrested but not provided access to the required treatment cannot be incarcerated.

The Drug Policy Alliance praised the plan to reduce the incarceration of low-level drug offenders, but warned that drastic drug treatment funding reductions threaten Californians' health.

"As sponsors of Prop. 36, we have faith that treatment works. But we agree that criminal justice-referred treatment is more costly than community-based treatment," Dooley-Sammuli said.

"We support the protection of treatment resources outside the criminal justice system as a crucial public health policy. But we are glad that, whatever the funding, nonviolent drug offenders in California will not be sentenced to costly and ineffective jail sentences."

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