Drug treatment funding up in air

Funding for Proposition 36 could be cut in half

Butte County administrators will have a tough decision ahead of them if Governor Schwarzenegger has his way. That’s because the 2007-08 state budget proposal would halve funding for Proposition 36 and require counties to pony up more dough for the treatment-instead-of-incarceration program—as they see fit.

When voters approved Proposition 36, aka the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act of 2000, the state promised $120 million every year for five years. The law mandates that nonviolent, low-level drug offenders be offered treatment instead of being jailed.

The money primarily funds treatment and rehabilitation centers. In June 2006, that initial funding ran out. At that time, Schwarzenegger approved another $120 million—$900,000 of which came to Butte County—plus $25 million that went into the Offender Treatment Program. OTP basically funnels money to counties, with a requirement that the counties provide a 10 percent match.

In December, the Butte County Board of Supervisors applied for and was granted an additional $131,664 from OTP. The county’s match was $14,765—for seven months of operations.

Now, with the 2007-08 budget proposal, allocations to Prop. 36 would be cut to $60 million. An additional $60 million would be put into OTP but again would require counties to cough up more money. The percentage of match is not yet clear.

What this means for Butte County is that the successful treatment program is at a risk of being cut back significantly. There are currently 250 to 260 participants at any one time who go through Prop. 36 Court.

“If you have half the funding, you have half the program,” said Dr. Brad Luz, director of Butte County’s Behavioral Health Department. “We’d be down to about 130 cases. Instead of two probation officers, we’d have one. Instead of having several counselors, we’d have a few.”

He’s right. “Counties are mandated to provide these services, but difficult policy decisions will need to be made as to the level of service the county can provide,” said Sean Farrell, deputy administrative officer for Butte County.

The program has been successful in Butte County, with about 50 percent of participants graduating. The statewide average is only 34 percent. “We’ve noticed that with the involvement with the courts, we get better results,” Luz added.

And the reality is that in order to increase county funding for Prop. 36, money would have to be taken out of the budget for other services. “For instance, if we need to direct more monies to Prop. 36 programs, we may need to consider impacts to our libraries or the number of deputies we have on patrol,” Farrell said. “We’ll have to weigh the pros and cons of various outcomes.”

Luz plans to lobby for more funding and support for the program and encourages the public to join him. “This is a community that is highly impacted by drug abuse. The community needs to step up and let legislators know that they want treatment in their community.”

The state budget will be revised in the spring and then approved over the summer. Then it will be up to the supervisors as to how much money will be allocated to Prop. 36.

“It’s been a very successful program,” Luz said. “It kind of makes you wonder what’s going on. It works, it’s effective, we’re doing a good job—what are the state’s priorities?