California Researchers Look at Impact of Diverting Nonviolent Drug Users from Jail to Treatment

In separate studies conducted from 2001 to 2002, researchers at the RAND Corporation and at the Public Health Institute collected and analyzed data related to the implementation of California's Proposition 36, the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act.

The act, which was implemented in July 2001, diverts large numbers of nonviolent drug offenders from incarceration to treatment programs.

Key Findings

  • The RAND researchers reported that:

    • Criminal justice clients were a large component of the population served in the public treatment system prior to Proposition 36 implementation.
    • These clients were more challenging to treat, more likely to be methamphetamine users and more likely to use expensive residential treatment than the clients served outside the criminal justice system.
  • The Public Health Institute researchers reported that:

    • California's public drug treatment system is heterogeneous and more decentralized than in other states.
    • During initial implementation, many first-time offenders preferred other, less burdensome legal options to treatment under Proposition 36.

Key Conclusions

  • RAND researchers concluded that treating the Proposition 36 population might be difficult and expensive and result in a demand for different treatment services if the mix of clients changes.

  • The Public Health Institute researchers noted that Proposition 36 potentially shifts the debate over drug abuse policy toward greater consideration of public health outcomes.