by Jennifer Haake

The first results of a UCLA study released last week show that California taxpayers are saving more money than expected due to Proposition 36, which gives first- and second-time drug offenders the option of rehabilitation with probation instead of jail time.

According to a press release from the Drug Policy Alliance, a national organization which supports rehabilitation over incarceration, the results of the UCLA study mean that roughly $275 million was saved in the first year Proposition 36 went into effect.

The study covered 58 counties and was conducted by the UCLA Integrated Substance Abuse Program, which is part of UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute. Bill Zimmerman, who managed the campaign for Proposition 36 when Californians voted on it in 2000, said the State Office of the Legislative Analyst originally estimated the Proposition could save $250 million after several years.

The Legislative Analyst's Office provides nonpartisan fiscal and policy advice to the legislature.

"[They] didn't think the savings would add up to this until the third or fourth year, but we've exceeded those expectations already," Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said money is being saved because providing outpatient treatment is cheaper than incarceration.

He said the cost for treatment per drug offender is about $4,000, whereas annual incarceration costs roughly $28,000 per inmate.

Dr. Douglas Longshore, the principal investigator for the UCLA study, said the findings for the next four years of the study are unpredictable at this point.

"It's very hard to see how that's going to play out," Longshore said.

Though 69 percent of the 53,697 eligible drug offenders opted to receive treatment, the treatment's effectiveness is uncertain. The probability of repeat offenders could affect the money-saving quality of Proposition 36 in the future.

Also, if budget cuts lead the state to stop allocating $120 million to counties for treatment, counties may have to pay the bill themselves or cut back from other programs.

Michaelis Jacoby, former drug offender and the clinical supervisor of the Discovery Program - a residential alcohol and drug treatment center in Century City - said jail time without more costly in-house treatment is ineffective.

"I know for me jail has no rehabilitative qualities - it just taught me to be a better criminal," he said.

However, Jacoby said it was while he was in Biscaluiz prison that he discovered the 12-step program which he said "changed ( his ) life." He said the spiritually based program worked for him by forcing him to take responsibility for his addiction.

According to the UCLA study for the year ending in July 2002, 86 percent of the offenders who received treatment through Proposition 36 were placed in outpatient drug-free programs, whereas only 10 percent were placed in a long-term residential program.

Jacoby does not believe the money-saving outpatient treatment is effective compared to inpatient treatment, because people can arrive late to meetings or ignore the message they teach.

"I think that if you get arrested and they Prop. 36-you, you need a long-term, sober living facility to really get a chance," he said.

Public policy Professor Mark A.R. Kleiman - director of the Drug Policy Analysis Program that researches the effects of drug policies on the public - believes cutting costs through using an outpatient program may not be the best way to treat drug addicts.

He suggested enforcing frequent drug tests and increased monitoring of offenders. "I think it would be worth the money to get people to do what you want them to do, which is stop," he said.