Though the repercussions of slashing funding to drug rehabilitation initiative Proposition 36 are merely projections at this point, many officials agree there could be a heavy price to pay.
Under the budget Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed into law July 28, Proposition 36 funding drops to just $18 million, an 83 percent cut from $108 million last year. The drug rehabilitation initiative was approved by 61 percent of voters in November 2000 and enacted by the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act effective July 1, 2001. It mandates treatment instead of incarceration for first- or second-time non-violent adult drug offenders who use, possess or transport illegal drugs.
By July 2006, when initial funding for the program ran out, more than 150,000 people had benefited from Proposition 36 treatment, saving California taxpayers an estimated $1.3 billion.
A University of California at Los Angeles study found every dollar spent on Proposition 36 treatment would eventually save the state $2.50 to $4, and suggested it would take about $230 million per year to adequately serve all those who need treatment.
Tim Rother, executive director of ARH Recovery Homes Inc., agrees with the importance of rehabilitation programs.
"From an economic standpoint, treatment has shown to be a seven times X factor," he said. He added that treatment is "seven times cheaper than incarceration."
Robert Garner, director of the Santa Clara County Department of Alcohol and Drug Services,
Approximately three years after the program was put in place, "we had been responsible for a drop in the jail population of 21 percent," he said.
At 701 S. Abel St. in Milpitas stands the Elmwood Correctional Facility, where 2,500 men and 600 women inmates are housed. It is run by the Santa Clara County Department of Correction the fifth largest jail system in California, and among the 20 largest systems in the United States. It books approximately 65,000 arrestees annually and 80 percent of the population has a history of drug or alcohol related problems.
In 2008, Santa Clara County housed and cared for an average of 4,632 inmates a day, a custody population higher than in 10 state systems. Elmwood is among the 100 systems nationwide with an inmate population of more than 1,000.
When asked what impact the cuts to Proposition 36 may bring to local law enforcement, Santa Clara County Chief of Correction Edward Flores responded that it's simply "too early to estimate." However, he did project how it could affect services.
"Judges may have less options for community programs and could therefore sentence more offenders to the jail's in-custody programs," he said. "Also, inmates who normally would be referred to community programs by our rehabilitation officers may not have that option and would then have to remain in custody. At this early stage, there are no solid numbers. We are monitoring how these potential changes may impact our operations."
Garner speculated the impact on jails will be dire.
"If it roughly cuts in half the amount of money available, that means we have long, long waiting lists and that's really all I can say," he said. "These are people who, under law, cannot be incarcerated. ... They'll just get in line. There will be some who will keep using and get rearrested."
For many, this could mean ending up in jail after breaking more serious infractions.
"Most people would agree that treatment is the best way to get people out of jail," Garner said. "If the result of these cuts is more and more people are going to end up in jail because there is no treatment, well ..."
Despite what some call positive impacts, requests for expanded funding have been ignored by Gov. Schwarzenegger. Local agencies have to make cuts themselves.
Cuts despite growing treatment needs
When the county signed contracts for rehabilitation programs this year, ARH's services were reduced by 60 percent. In Santa Clara County, ARH had previously been the largest provider of alcohol and drug rehabilitation with 23 licensed facilities catering to men, women, women with preschool children and women who are pregnant. In total, they were serving roughly 320 clients per day.
Because of the funding cuts, Rother said they have laid off an excess of personnel. They have also been forced to hand over their programs once considered "legacies" like the Mariposa Lodge For Women Detox and Benny McKeown Center in San Jose, which have both been taken over by different contracts.
"That is really the origin of ARH," Rother said of Benny McKeown, a 27-bed alcohol and drug recovery program that offered a highly structured, comprehensive program for men and women seeking treatment. ARH is no longer operating the center.
"It is heart-wrenching, almost crushing, to see these houses close down that were once legacies for people," Rother said.
Of course, doing so has not come without significant risks.
"Impact is high to clients already," Rother said, explaining that since nearly three weeks ago ARH has been "getting calls constantly from mothers, sons, daughters in tears." These were people, he said, used to relying on certain services and having difficulty coping with the recent treatment changes.
Even though it is no longer ARH's responsibility to help people seeking treatment from facilities like Benny McKeown, Rother said he is still emotionally bound to those seeking help. As such, he responds to the calls with guidance, hoping to get such people moving in the right direction.
"What do you tell them other than to do their best to find ... an alcohol or drug 12-step program and get a sponsor," he said.
According to international data, Rother said the 12-step program is the best-proven formula there is. But, he explains, to make a life-changing difference "many people require acute treatment. Many people cannot do it without some kind of environmental change... They need to get someway away from the people and circumstances that they see."
While attending an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting is beneficial, he said timing is just as important. If someone goes to a meeting at noon, but falls back into their daily routine shortly afterward, these everyday influences can naturally provide a "low probability of success," he said.
Rother noted it is interesting cuts to rehabilitation programs are occurring during a time where a need seems to be growing. Unemployment rates keep rising, leading to strains on households and relationships.
"The social pressures on people have really magnified accelerants to (those) who are trying to run away," he said. "Drugs and alcohol are an escape."
Despite the cuts to Proposition 36, Rother said he sustains an "attitude of hope."
"I know that I can't leave the job undone. I can't walk away and watch it crumble further. I have to do what I can to stop the bleeding."
Substance abuse costs
According to ARH, substance abuse costs the United States more than $484 billion each year. In California alone, the estimated cost of alcohol and drug abuse is $35 billion annually.
The following local resources are available to address alcoholism or drug addiction.
-Nationwide Addiction Assistance Helpline: (800) 559-9503
-Alcoholics Anonymous: www.aasanjose.org
-Narcotics Anonymous: www.sjna.org
-National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information: www.health.org.