Prop 36 helps addicts battle substance abuse problems | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Prop 36 helps addicts battle substance abuse problems

Denise Sloan

Some consider Prop 36 a bit like a free get-out-of-jail card. Others consider it a huge money saver to California taxpayers. Proposition 36 was passed by 61 percent of California voters in November 2000. This initiative allows people convicted of first- and second-time nonviolent, simple drug possession charges to receive drug abuse treatment instead of incarceration.

In the first five years of the program, more than 150,000 Californians have entered treatment, and California taxpayers have saved an estimated $1.5 billion. That’s the amount it would have cost to put all those offenders behind bars.

“Probably 80 percent of the people in prison are there for drug related crimes, and if Prop 36 can help half of them, it’s a great start,” said Paul Pabst, Sierra Recovery Center’s outpatient lead counselor.

Prop 36 is voluntary and solely designed to get clients help for their substance abuse rather than punishment. If a defendant is eligible, the judge, prosecutor and attorney will come to an agreement to give the client the opportunity to participate in the Prop 36 program.

“The reason Prop 36 is so important is that it not only helps the addict get off their habit, but we can help them change their lifestyle. We offer so many ancillary services to them while they are in the program, and that can be for up to one year,” Pabst said.

Some of the services available to Prop 36 clients include G.E.D. training, adult education, mental health services, family reunification, parenting education classes and even temporary housing. And these services are all paid for with Prop 36 funds.

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“Probation, the health department and SRC all work hand-in-hand to help our clients with life skills and stress management techniques so they can cope without the use of drugs,” Pabst said. “Some enter the program just to stay out of jail, some are just status quo and then some are doing great. We have one guy who completed the program and then enrolled himself in outpatient treatment. He’s doing great.”

That guy who is doing great is 52-year-old Pete, a graduate of the Prop 36 program.

“You gotta have to want to make it work,” Pete said. “I read that only one in four successfully make it through the Prop 36 program because they don’t really want recovery, they just don’t want to go to jail.” Pete has been drug-free for six months.

“For some, Prop 36 is a free get-out-of-jail card. You have to work the program the way it is meant to be. It works if you work it and keep working it. I’m not claiming to be an angel, but I’m working the steps. And I’m still coming to SRC groups because I want to. It helps me,” he said.

“What I like about Prop 36 is that there is a lot of opportunity for clients to really grow and begin recovery,” Pabst said.

Debbie Devenzio, El Dorado County’s probation officer who deals strictly with Prop 36 clients, agrees.

“We have some real success stories through Prop 36, but with inflation and more and more meth addicts who need residential treatment, the funds just aren’t going far enough.” Devenzio has a caseload of 85 clients who have been afforded the opportunity to receive treatment rather than jail time. And depending on where they are in the process, she may have contact with her clients every day, once a week or once a month.

“If they fail the Prop 36 program altogether, there are still consequences,” Devenzio said. “They would still have to do their jail time.”

Another benefit is that once a client has successfully completed the Prop 36 program and their probation, their drug conviction is removed from their record.

Gov. Schwarzenegger has included funding for Prop 36 in his draft budget, but it is insufficient funding to keep the program afloat. Prop 36 funding for next year will not be locked in until the state budget is finalized in mid-2006.

In addition to the Prop 36 program, Sierra Recovery Center offers residential detoxification and treatment, outpatient treatment, DUI programs, harm reduction and relapse prevention groups, parenting education, living in balance groups, problem gambling counseling, criminal justice programs and individual counseling. For more information, call (530) 541-5190.

– Denise Sloan is public relations and fund development director for Sierra Recovery Center.