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County Is Urged to Spend More on Drug Treatment

Grand jury report focuses on effectiveness of diversion programs under Proposition 36.

May 01, 2003|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

A new Orange County Grand Jury report says more money must be spent on treating drug offenders, a finding that comes as county officials grapple with how to fund existing programs during the state budget crunch.

About 97% of the money for local programs comes from the state. The remainder is federal.

The report, issued Wednesday, came the same day as the state legislative counsel's office said that California must provide $120 million in next year's budget to treat drug offenders.

In a five-page opinion, the counsel's office said the spending is required by law through voter passage of Proposition 36 in November 2000. The annual $120-million allotment cannot be changed by Gov. Davis or the Legislature without another statewide vote, the office said. The grand jury's interest in Proposition 36 focused on the effectiveness of local drug treatment programs that divert offenders from jail.

Jurors said crime rates have risen since Proposition 36 -- an increase some police departments attribute to the measure's option for treatment for first and second offenses.

Offenders should be tested for drugs and supervised immediately "to minimize repeated crimes after initial release," says the report, written by the grand jury's criminal justice committee, chaired by former Assistant Sheriff Jerry Krans.

The report adds that there is no "hard evidence" that Proposition 36 diversion programs resulted in more crime.

Drug treatment advocates said the economy is more to blame for crime spikes.

"A lot of this [criticism] is politically motivated because police and law enforcement are not fans of [Proposition 36] and they're fighting for their budgets," said Whitney Taylor, one of the campaign directors of the initiative and now with the Drug Policy Alliance in Sacramento.

County health officials anticipated some state cuts in the recommendations they sent this week to the Board of Supervisors on Proposition 36 programs for next year.

The board approved $10.3 million for abuse and crime prevention programs for the coming fiscal year, down from $12.4 million last year.

This week, two Orange County officials protested cuts to their drug-court budgets, which they said should be reimbursed from Proposition 36 funds.

Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas and acting Public Defender Deborah Kwast argued against combined cuts of $800,000.

Supervisors said they were concerned that the county may be liable for reimbursing some of the Proposition 36 money spent on the district attorney and public defender.

The measure allows some court costs to be paid but not those that the county would have incurred otherwise for arrest, arraignment and processing.

An official with the state Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs said Orange and Fresno counties were warned about their spending plans last year.

Since Proposition 36 spending is triggered after an offender is convicted, only some costs are covered, said state spokesman Les Johnson.

"The caution was that you can't pay for things you already do," he said.

Rackauckas and Kwast said the measure has required more spending to screen offenders for diversion programs and to process those cases. Both said their offices have spent more than they have been reimbursed.

Supervisor Jim Silva proposed a funding breakdown that would have trimmed less money from law enforcement. But a majority of supervisors said voters wanted money spent on drug treatment.

"The emphasis on Proposition 36 is treatment, and this reflects that," said Supervisor Chris Norby, who provided the swing vote.

Counties had until today to submit Proposition 36 funding plans to the state. Adjustments to the amounts available can be made during this summer's budget hearings, board Chairman Tom Wilson said.

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