Three months after Proposition 36 took effect, first- and second-time nonviolent drug offenders who might have once spent time behind bars now sit in treatment centers. And in Alameda County, there is room for everyone – in outpatient treatment, at least.
“It’s going pretty smoothly given it’s a start up program,” said Pat Furlong of the Alameda County Department of Behavioral Care, which oversees the county’s implementation of Proposition 36. “So far, we haven’t had too many problems.”
Proposition 36, the statewide initiative approved by 60 percent of California voters last November, allows eligible offenders convicted of illegal drug use or possession to receive probation and treatment instead of incarceration. Opponents of the measure said that the program would tax the state’s already crowded substance abuse centers. According to the California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs, there were 73,600 publicly-funded substance abuse treatment slots available in the state in April 2001, with about 5,000 people on county waiting lists.
Despite the negative projections, Alameda County has so far been able to accommodate the increased demand for treatment, though the long-term viability of the program is unclear.
Furlong said she worries about residential treatment capacity and warns that there might not be enough funding to sustain the program. The county was awarded $5.4 million in state funding this year to carry out the measure.
From July 1 through Sept. 7, Furlong said the county received 248 Prop. 36 clients. Clients are first reviewed by private assessment teams and then placed in appropriate treatment, which can range from eight-week education programs to long-term residential stays. Providers report clients’ progress to the county on a monthly basis. In addition, the county evaluates clients every 90 days.
Of the first 248 offenders referred for treatment by the courts, Furlong said 80 percent were placed in outpatient treatment, 10 percent in residential treatment, 7 percent in early intervention programs, 1 percent in methadone treatment, 1 percent in detoxification and 1 percent in day treatment. Furlong expects Prop. 36 to add a total of 2,500 to 3,000 substance abuse clients a year to the more than 8,000 already in the Alameda County system.
“We have no problems with outpatient, but we’re at capacity right now for residential treatment,” said Furlong. “Those people in the beds now will be there for weeks. But we’ll need new beds for new people soon. The turnover is not quick enough.”
Mark McConville, executive director of the nonprofit organization, Second Chance, Inc., a Proposition 36-contracted outpatient treatment center with sites in Fremont, Newark and Union City, echoed the need for more residential beds.
“We currently have two people from our outpatient program who we’d like to get into a residential program,” said McConville. “But there aren’t available beds among the Proposition 36-eligible residential programs in Alameda County.”
Residential treatment can take anywhere from a few weeks to 18 months. At present, Alameda County has contracts with six residential treatment sites and is negotiating with five additional agencies to meet increased demand, said Furlong.
Statewide, the effect appears to be similar. Dan Carson of the California Legislative Analyst’s Office, which is tracking implementation, said that anecdotal information from counties indicates, “the numbers coming into the treatment system as a result of Prop 36 are a bit light, but that the treatment needs of the offenders are more severe than predicted.”
Carson, however, cautioned that this early data could turn out to be very misleading and that official numbers have yet to be compiled and published.
But so far, the anecdotal information seems on target for Alameda County.
Whereas residential programs, the longest form of treatment, are at capacity, outpatient and detoxification centers have room for more. McConville said his outpatient agency has only received 90 Proposition 36 referrals, of which about half are currently enrolled in the program. He has 800 clients total.
Leo Van Der Most, manager at New Leaf Treatment Center in Hayward, a Proposition 36-contracted agency, said his six-bed detoxification program is only 70 percent full on average.
Both McConville and Van Der Most said that only 10 percent of their clientele are sober one year later and that treatment is an ongoing process. “About 80 percent of the drug offenders really want to be here,” said Van Der Most. “They say ‘I’m glad I got caught because I couldn’t stop myself.’ The others don’t cooperate and don’t want to be here. But the seed is planted.”
McConville had a similar take. “We’ve been around for 30 years and we have a lot of people who came through as runaways years ago who are only now sober,” he said. “So we don’t get too excited if they don’t get sober the first time around.”
In order to receive Proposition 36-referred clients, McConville said that an agency has to be state-certified and contracted with the county. Many agencies are not currently contracted with Alameda County and so are ineligible for Proposition 36. But Furlong is working to get more agencies on board.
New Bridge Foundation in Berkeley, one of the largest drug treatment facilities on the East Bay, is negotiating a contract, according to its director Peter Budwalen. In addition, Furlong said he is working to get a contract with a 25-bed residential treatment center in Oakland.
Besides meeting future capacity, however, Furlong said his biggest worry is funding. The state allocated $120 million for Proposition 36 to be distributed between the counties. But Furlong thinks that the counties need more.
“The counties already indicated to the state that this isn’t going to be enough. Before Proposition 36, (Alameda County) had $19 million for the 8,000-9,000 clients in our system. But now we’re expecting 2,500-3,000 new people each year because of Proposition 36 and we only have $5.4 million to cover the difference.”
Furlong said since the program is not yet at full capacity, funding is probably sufficient for this year. But he is concerned that funding will be a challenge down the line, especially if numbers increase. At present, the county is wholly dependent on state funds.