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California's Prop. 5 Will Save Lives and Money

Alternatives to Incarceration

by MARGARET DOOLEY-SAMMULI

With the state’s budget deficit worsening and prison overcrowding reaching crisis levels, California voters are looking for effective solutions. Proposition 5 builds on California’s proven treatment alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders. According to the nonpartisan California Legislative Analyst’s Office, Prop. 5 will expand access to proven treatment programs while cutting state costs.

The savings – in lives and taxpayer dollars – of California’s existing treatment programs is the theme of “Success Story,” a new TV spot released today by the Yes on 5 campaign and now airing statewide. The ad focuses on Proposition 36, the treatment-instead-of-incarceration program approved by voters in 2000, which has so far graduated 84,000 nonviolent drug offenders and cut state spending on incarceration by more than $2 billion. The ad comes just days after the release of a new study on Proposition 36.

Al Senella, president of the California Association of Alcohol and Drug Program Executives, said, “The proof is in the research: treatment works and it cuts costs. But Prop. 36 hasn’t been adequately funded. That means some people aren’t getting all the help they need and taxpayers aren’t seeing all the savings they should. Inadequate investment in treatment means higher costs later.”

Conducted by independent researchers at UCLA, the October 14 report found that Prop. 36 consistently serves 35,000 nonviolent drug offenders each year, saves $2 for every $1 spent, and that program graduates have lower recidivism rates.

Tom Renfree, executive director of the County Alcohol and Drug Program Administrators Association of California, said, “UCLA showed that the program needs individualized treatment, increased supervision and improved accountability. Prop. 5 delivers on all these recommendations. For those not satisfied with Prop. 36, Prop. 5 is the answer. It will improve outcomes and further cut costs.”

The New York Times editorial board, which has a policy of not endorsing state ballot initiatives, all but endorsed Prop. 5 on Saturday (10-25-08). The Legislative Analyst’s Office found that Prop. 5 will lower incarceration costs by $1 billion each year and eliminate $2.5 billion in prison construction costs. And that doesn’t include savings related to reduced crime, fewer social services costs (e.g. emergency room visits, welfare) or increased individual productivity.

Prop. 36 has been a huge success. What all the research tells us is that treatment can be even more successful at cutting recidivism and prison spending. That’s why Prop. 5 is on the ballot.

MARGARET DOOLEY-SAMMULI is the deputy campaign manager for the “Yes on 5″ campaign, based in Los Angeles.