Drug users may fall through cracks in California budget | SierraSun.com

Drug users may fall through cracks in California budget

SACRAMENTO, Calif. and#8212; Thousands of California drug offenders could end up without treatment or jail time because of a clash between the stateand#8217;s new budget and an initiative approved by voters nine years ago.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzeneg ger and legislators slashed funding for drug programs to help close a $26.3 billion deficit this week. Money for treatment programs has gone from $145 million three years ago to just $18 million for the current year.

Proposition 36, approved by 61 percent of voters in 2000, has diverted 36,000 nonviolent first- and sec-ond- time drug offenders a year from prisons and jails into treatment programs.

Officials say many addicts will now face long waits and inadequate treatment.

Such offenders cannot be sent to jail, even if diversion programs collapse for lack of money, said Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director for the advoca cy group Drug Policy Alliance. With certain indi vidual exceptions, the law mandates that and#8220;any person convicted of a nonviolent drug possession offense shall receive probation.and#8221;

and#8220;The courts cannot incar cerate them because there is no treatment available to them,and#8221; said Dooley-Sammuli, whose organiza tion promoted the initiative.

and#8220;The law is clear.and#8221;

The group has successfully sued in the past to prevent offenders from being sent to jail, arguing incarceration would violate votersand#8217; intent.

and#8220;That is a significant issue,and#8221; said Scott Thorpe, chief executive officer of the California District Attorneys Association. and#8220;Is it going to result in more people on the street without treatment?and#8221;

State officials want to use a federal grant, coupled with the $18 million in state money, to spend $63 million on diversion programs this year.

That is little more than half the $108 million the state spent last year, and little more than one-quarter of the $228 million that researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles recommended the state spend on treatment alterna tives in 2007.

Counties already are so hard hit by the poor econo my that officials are laying off sheriffand#8217;s deputies and cutting vital services. Now they must also try to find money for drug programs previously funded by the state.

and#8220;We do have to offer drug treatment in lieu of incarcer ation. It will mean longer waiting lists and they may not receive appropriate treatment,and#8221; said Kelly Brooks, a legislative repre sentative with the California State Association of Counties. and#8220;Youand#8217;re certainly going to shoot yourself in the foot on any success that weand#8217;ve had in getting people into drug-free lives and being productive citizens again.and#8221;

Susan Blacksher, executive director of the California Association of Addiction Recovery Resources, expects counties may wind up and#8220;just warehousing peopleand#8221; in out patient programs without providing them enough services to make a difference.

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