The student weekly of St. Olaf | Friday, September 19, 2014 | Subscribe
ISSUE 120 VOL 17 PUBLISHED 4/13/2007

Rehabilitate offenders

By Emily Koester
News Editor

Friday, April 13, 2007

Just because a system isn't perfect doesn't mean you should get rid of it, but it seems that's precisely what some Californian politicians would like to do with Proposition 36. When 36 went through seven years ago, it was a progressive way of dealing with California's drug problem. Rather than jailing those in possession of illegal drugs, the proposition mandated that offenders be treated for their addiction; not only that, but citizens are allowed three cases of drug possession and treatment before they are actually jailed.

At first, it certainly seems like a good plan  it offers hope for individuals rather than straight-up punishment. The problem, though, is that the plan hasn't been as successful as first estimated.

According to the Los Angeles Times, almost half of people enrolled in drug treatment never finish, and a quarter of people assigned drug treatment never even show up. Recently there has been talk among legislators and executives that the money funding Proposition 36 could be better spent elsewhere.

The concerns are understandable, but before removing or reducing such a program, legislators need to look at the big picture. From a humanitarian standpoint, Proposition 36 ought to stay for the sake of those who use it properly. Though plenty of drug users do take advantage of 36's relaxed rules to perpetuate drug sale and intake, there are also thousands who turn themselves around.

According to the Proposition 36 website, over 140,000 people have been provided with treatment. The Los Angeles Times states that 78 percent of people who actually complete treatment report being drug-free a year later. I doubt that many of those people would have improved their lives through the prison system; it is better to prevent drug use via personal commitment rather than physical restraint. In the long run, cultivating a community of healthy citizens would do a lot more to reduce drug use than would the threat of prison sentences.

Economically, it wouldn't make sense to get rid of Proposition 36 either. It is far cheaper to provide treatment to drug users than to imprison them.

Numbers vary by source, but the Proposition 36 website estimates that since its beginning the treatment policy has saved the state over $1.3 billion. The Los Angeles Times states that for every dollar spent on Proposition 36, the state of California saves $2.50.

Another issue with the California prison system is prison overcrowding. The prisons hold 172,000 people but are designed only to hold 100,000. Gov. Schwarzenegger has proposed thousands more prison beds. That won't cut it. He's also ready to diminish sentencing and relax parole rules. If such adjustments are made, is this really the time to cut Proposition 36's treatment program, thereby adding thousands more citizens to the prison population?

Perhaps it's good that Proposition 36 is being questioned  there is no doubt that there is room for improvement. Just because a program isn't effective as it should be doesn't mean that the program should be axed. It seems that the rehab program is simply in need of, well, rehab. Candidates in need of treatment often need to wait months to receive it  there's room for improvement right there.

The issue of prison overcrowding needs fresh solutions aside from building new beds. In a country with the highest prison rate in the world, and in a state with an undeniable prison crowding problem, it would only make sense to employ a program to reduce convicted criminals in favor of working citizens. It would save both money  and lives  in the long run.

Staff writer Emily Koester is a junior from St. Paul, Minn. She majors in English with a concentration in Middle East studies.

Printer Friendly version of this page Printer friendly version | E-mail a Copy of the Article to a Friend Email this | Write the editors | More articles by Emily Koester

Related Links

More Stories

Page Load: 62 milliseconds