DA doubts Prop. 36

Proposition 36, the initiative that requires persons arrested for possession of drugs to be sentenced to treatment programs instead of jail, became the law of the land in California last week, and Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey said he’s been working on its implementation for weeks.

Ramsey opposed the initiative but said that won’t stop him from enforcing it. Prop. 36 mandates that those arrested for “simple possession"—possessing drugs but without any additional charges—be sent to state-sponsored rehabilitation programs. It passed by a wide margin last year.

Supporters say it will cull out the nonviolent drug offenders who tend to make a revolving door out of the prison system, but opponents—Ramsey included—say that it will tie the hands of local law enforcement.

Prop. 36 will change little about law enforcement in Butte County, Ramsey said, since it is essentially modeled after Drug Court, which has been part of Butte County’s court system for several years. Adjudicated by Judge Darrell Stevens, Drug Court requires nonviolent drug offenders to go through a specifically tailored rehabilitation process.

Ramsey said that Prop. 36 will take the place of Drug Court in Butte County. His office will work with Behavioral Health, clinicians and private drug rehab agencies to provide the kind of therapy the initiative requires.

“Here in Butte County, not much will change,” Ramsey said. “Drug Court was very successful in providing the kind of care and therapy that Prop. 36 requires. … We’ve been funneling offenders out of Drug Court and into Prop. 36 care.”

He said the county still plans to use “shock incarceration"—putting offenders who test positive for drug use while in the program in county jail for 24 hours, no questions asked—in its Prop. 36 program, and that he expects that some supporters of the initiative may object to that. Shock incarceration was a cornerstone of Drug Court’s program.

"There might be people out there who don’t want to send anyone who has a drug problem to jail," he acknowledged, "but it is a good way to get someone’s attention when they’re messing up."