Prison director says drug measure won’t help Most crowding is worst among violent convicts not narcotic offenders

The Associated Press
Wednesday October 25, 2000

SACRAMENTO — A California ballot measure that would put thousands of drug offenders into treatment rather than behind bars wouldn’t solve the state’s prison crowding problem, Corrections Director Cal Terhune said Tuesday. 

Crowding is worst among the most violent inmates and those who face life terms under California’s three-strikes law, said Terhune, who is retiring Nov. 4. 

Nonviolent drug users, by contrast, are generally housed in 16 dormitory-style minimum-security community correctional facilities, most of which are run by public or private agencies under contract with the Department of Corrections. 

“That isn’t where our pinch is,” Terhune said in an interview. “I wouldn’t suggest anybody do too much experimenting with putting high-level security cases in those lower-security beds.” 

Regardless of whether Proposition 36 passes Nov. 7, the department must still  

reduce the number of violent inmates housed two-to-a-cell, Terhune said. 

All told, the system is housing nearly double the inmates envisioned in its design capacity. 

Terhune took no position on the merits of Proposition 36 itself during an extended interview.  

However, he said he favors drug treatment for those who need it.  

And he noted that the number of treatment beds in prisons have increased from 400 to 8,000 during his three-year tenure as director. 

The proposition would require treatment rather than incarceration for those convicted for the first or second time of being under the influence of drugs or possessing drugs for their personal use. 

That would divert as many as 24,000 nonviolent drug offenders a year who currently go to prison or are sent back to prison for violating their parole, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates. 

Many serve just a few months in prison, however, so the analyst projects the state would need 9,000 to 11,000 fewer prison beds if Proposition 36 is approved. 

“That’s a huge dent in the prison population,” said Dave Fratello, campaign manager of the California for New Drug Policies, Proposition 36’s prime supporter. 

A typical year of treatment costs about $4,000, compared to an average $23,000 to house an inmate in prison.  

However, a dormitory-style prison costs $15,000 to $17,000, the department said. 

The proposition would also cut parole caseloads by about 9,500 per year, the analysis estimates, because drug users wouldn’t be sent to prison in the first place. 

“It’s a solution to a crisis that’s been building for 10 years or more,” Fratello said. 

He doesn’t dispute that the state may still need more high-security beds.  

But Fratello argued there would be an incalculable long-term savings and social benefit from those whose early treatment deters them from other crimes that would eventually send them to prison. 

Lance Corcoran, vice president of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, questions the analysis because he thinks most first-time drug offenders already are sidetracked into treatment programs. 

He also questions the social benefit of repeatedly sending drug users to treatment rather than prison. 

“We’re not talking here about ’Joe One-time-casual-user’ here who gets popped,” Corcoran said. 

On the Net: 

Read Proposition 36 and arguments pro and con at http://www.ss.ca.gov