Study finds Arizona drug law avoids millions in prison costs

By Paul Davenport Associated Press Writer
Wednesday December 05, 2001

PHOENIX – Arizona avoided millions of dollars in prison costs through a voter-approved 1996 law that requires that some drug offenders be placed on probation and provided treatment rather than locked up, a new study concludes. 

The sponsors of a similar California law that took effect in July have applauded the results as a good example of what can be expected as the treatment initiative diverts thousands of drug offenders from the nation’s largest state prison system. 

“Arizona has the most experience with a law that grants a right to treatment instead of jail, and the state continues to have positive results,” said Dave Fratello, who managed the campaign for California’s Proposition 36, approved by voters in November 2000. 

Fratello’s Campaign for New Drug Policies is encouraging similar initiatives in other states if California’s effort succeeds. 

Arizona spent $1 million in 1999 to treat and supervise 390 inmates kept out of prison by the 1996 law, while it would have cost $7.7 million to imprison them, the study said. 

That called, called Proposition 102 on the November 2002 ballot, focused on diverting nonviolent drug offenders from the prison system into community treatment programs. 

The new study by the state Administrative Office of the Courts reviewed probation and treatment costs of 5,385 probationers who participated in the state-funded substance-use treatment program. 

Of them, 1,246, 23 percent, were sentenced to probation under Proposition 102. 

Only 390 of the 1,246 would have gone to prison without Proposition 102, because many violators already avoided prison sentences, the study showed. 

The study said 2,719 probationers had ended treatment as of June 30, 1999, 82 percent of whom complied with treatment requirements and 38 percent who did not. 

Passage of Proposition 102 meant the “valuable tool” of offering voluntary participation in treatment programs is not available to law enforcement officials trying to deal with offenders who refuse treatment, the report said. 

Proposition 102 requires treatment rather than time behind bars for those convicted for the first or second time of being under the influence of drugs or possessing drugs for personal use. The state Supreme Court recently ruled that the law also covers possession of drug paraphernalia for personal use. 

The initiative provides funding for treatment. Money not required for treatment of offenders sentenced under Proposition 102 is available for treatment of other offenders, and the study said the state spent $3.5 million for treatment on those offenders in 1999.