Roads to recovery – Convicted meth users can avoid jail time through state-funded treatment
It was fate, David Havel thinks, that made him stop for a bite and a fill-up off Interstate 80 in Rocklin while returning home from his construction job in July 2003.
It must have been fate when a city police officer pulled the parolee over and arrested him for being under the influence of methamphetamine.
Havel, 48, was ready to go back behind bars, where he had already spent about 11 years of his life. A Lake of the Pines resident, Havel had been released from prison only three months earlier, in April 2003, and was already back on the drug.
But instead of prison, Havel’s parole officer told him about California’s Proposition 36, the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act. The proposition, which allows nonviolent drug offenders to receive treatment instead of jail time, was passed by 61 percent of California voters in 2000. In Nevada County, 58 percent supported the proposition, which allocates $120 million annually to counties to pay for treatment services.
According to its Web site, the proposition will save California taxpayers $1.5 billion over the five-year period because treatment is cheaper than incarceration.
“It’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me after 35 years of addiction,” Havel said recently. “I was never forced into it before. I wish I had been.”
But some people, including law enforcement and court officials, see Prop. 36 as a hindrance to the justice system, letting repeat offenders circle through the revolving door of arrest, prosecution, release and re-arrest.
Local murder suspect Scott Krause, for example, was seen as a nonviolent offender more than once as he received Prop. 36 probation sentences for meth charges. After Krause allegedly carjacked a truck and ran it head-on into a UPS van in January, killing the driver, some Nevada County residents were left questioning the ease with which the system tolerates repeat offenders.
“(Prop. 36) severely limited the ability of the judges and probation department to put people in custody,” Chief Probation Officer Doug Carver said.
The proposition also is often seen as less effective than its counterpart in most counties – drug court. Both are similar in that some of the same people are involved – the district attorney, public defender, mental health counselors and others. Offenders also have some of the same treatment options.
The two big differences between drug court and Prop. 36 are:
• Offenders are more closely monitored in drug court.
• When someone violates their probation under drug court, they go straight to prison. They don’t get a second chance to continue treatment outside prison.
Determining who will get treatment over jail
“We see meth as the most significant problem drug in the county,” Assistant District Attorney Ron Wolfson said.
However, meth-related crimes generally get the same treatment as any drug crimes. After pleading guilty or being found guilty by a jury, a defendant is referred by the court to the Nevada County Probation Department. The department prepares a presentencing report for the judge that incorporates the defendant’s criminal history, social history and mental health.
“We look into all of these factors … based upon the severity of the crime, and produce a recommendation,” Carver said.
After the report is presented, the prosecutor and defense attorney argue for or against it, and the judge makes a decision. Jail and prison time vary for meth crimes. The sentence for a felony charge of manufacturing meth, for example, can vary from three to seven years in prison. Along with prison time, a felony generally carries with it a five-year probation sentence; a misdemeanor gets three years’ probation.
This is why a Prop. 36 or drug court sentence might be appealing to some offenders. In Prop. 36, jail time for the crimes is waived, and a three-year probation sentence is imposed instead. If an offender attends the required classes and court hearings during the first year of probation and pays off his or her fines, the charges may be dropped. In drug court, the prison sentence is held off and the defendant is placed in a two-year treatment program, followed by at least one year of probation.
The court refers a meth-related offender to Nevada County Behavioral Health. Behavioral Health runs Prop. 36 locally with money provided by the state – almost $500,000 in 2002-03 – and determines if someone is a good candidate. Counselors assess the person’s history of drug use, criminal record and personal life to determine what form of treatment would be the best fit.
Some offenders in the program are facing their first drug charges but have actually been using narcotics for years, Behavioral Health Director Bob Erickson said.
After being sentenced under Prop. 36, offenders have to attend court hearings every few months and report to the judge on how they are doing. The offender’s parole officer and Behavioral Health case manger also comment on his or her progress.
In November 2003, a Placer County judge sentenced Havel through Prop. 36. Because Havel lives in Nevada County, he is treated for his addiction locally. He makes court appearances every six weeks in Placer County, he said.
Prop. 36; More patients, but does it work?
There are currently more than 100 offenders receiving treatment under Prop. 36 in Nevada County – more than seven times that of drug court.
Since October 2003, more than a dozen have graduated, said Merrill Straub, a probation officer handling Prop. 36 cases.
“When you see somebody succeed, it is truly the remarkable part,” Straub said. “You see them get their lives back and their families back … and they are totally ecstatic about that.”
Havel is one of the success stories.
“(Prison) wasn’t doing a thing to get me to stop,” he said. “I went into (treatment) with a very negative attitude. I didn’t want to be there.”
He said he was not comfortable with the drug testing, homework, four weekly classes and with having to talk about his drug use in front of a bunch of strangers.
“I thought it was too much for me,” he said.
But that quickly changed when Havel started building relationships with the others in his groups and his instructors. He credits these relationships with beginning his recovery.
“That group is very tightknit – it’s very powerful,” he said. “I could not go out and use (meth) and then face those men again. In fact, the people who don’t succeed don’t show up again.
“Addiction is insanity. I’ve wasted 35 years of my life to this insanity,” he said. “That’s exactly what a recovery program teaches you. My life has never been so together as it is now. I’ve never been able to think clear like I do now.”
Then there is the cost: According to the California Prop. 36 Web site, the average cost to taxpayers to house one inmate per year is $23,406. The average cost of a full treatment program for one offender is $4,300, according to the Web site.
Drug court in Nevada County has not been as cost-effective. According to a recent analysis by the court, since drug court began in 1998, $226,894 would have been spent to incarcerate its offenders. Drug court costs over the same period were about $227,000, according to the analysis.
While Prop. 36 allows some circling in the justice system – and no one denies this – Straub said that this is intended.
“Everyone who knows treatment knows there will be a relapse,” he said. “It’s not a free or unlimited ride, though.”
Probation officer Carver said Prop. 36 is still an evolving process with kinks that need to be worked out.
“There’s a gray area, and each county does it differently,” he said.
Drug court: If it works so well, where’s the money?
Drug court existed for years before Prop. 36 came along in 2001. Drug court, like the proposition, is financed by state government with money that would normally be used to incarcerate offenders.
The amount of money for drug court is based on county population, among other factors. Next year, Nevada County will get about $150,000. That amount is enough to keep about 15 offenders in the program. There is also a long waiting list, said Bruce Tepper, a probation department supervisor.
After defendants plead guilty to their crimes, the judge sentences them to state prison. This sentence is suspended pending their completion of drug court. If the convict drops out or gets kicked out for violating policy, the original prison sentence is imposed.
“They have to want it and be willing to make that change,” Tepper said.
As with Prop. 36, not all offenders may join drug court. Violent criminals or sex offenders are ineligible. Those found guilty of manufacturing meth also would not qualify for the program.
Unlike the proposition, through which most of the participants are misdemeanor offenders, more people convicted of felony crimes are able to take part in drug court.
“It depends on what (the crime is) coupled with,” Tepper said.
To enroll in drug court in Nevada County, offenders have to pay a $550 fee. This helps to cover some of the actual costs of running the program.
When addicts join, they are generally sent to a 90-day residential treatment program, where addicts learn about their addiction, Tepper said. After their release, the meth offenders are tested two or three times a week afterward – not so with Prop. 36.
Offenders enrolled in either Prop. 36 or drug court are able to seek help through Community Recovery Resource, a two-year program that assists participants in finding a steady job, a place to live and in how to handle child support.
Other forms of treatment are outpatient counseling and detox, an intensive, usually week-long treatment that physically gets the drugs out of the offender’s body.
Prop. 36 members pay a monthly supervision fee of $25, attend four meetings a week and are supervised by a few parole officers. Drug court members have to attend six meetings every week and are supervised by a team that includes several case managers and a Community Recovery Resource counselor.
While participating in drug court, offenders also have to either find a job or attend school.
“There is far more judicial supervision,” Judge John Darlington said of drug court. “It’s much more intensive. There’s much more contact between members and the team.”
If the county’s drug court were a television show, it would be a teary-eyed and inspiring talk show. Everyone knows each other by name. Judge Darlington sits not on the bench but at a small table pulled closer to the others in the courtroom.
Darlington is the host. He asks each of the offenders to come and sit next to him and talk about their lives. They tell jokes, talk about failed romantic relationships and discuss their work lives.
“We clap when they do well … we don’t clap when they don’t do well – they don’t like that,” said case manager Cyna Kern.
Where should the state tax dollars go?
A meth addict who violates Prop. 36 probation, such as murder suspect Scott Krause, may be resentenced under the proposition again. The offender may in fact be arrested multiple times for drug crimes and be eligible for Prop. 36 each time.
“Proposition 36 perhaps hasn’t had the track record drug court has,” Chief Probation Officer Doug Carver said. “Drug courts were successful in keeping people from going to prison (because) there’s real high stakes for these people to do well.”
To this, supporters of the proposition say prison does not always change a person and that no one can know if a nonviolent addict will turn into a killer.
“We can’t predict when someone will lose it,” parole officer Merrill Straub said. “If they go to jail, they still come out the same. I still have the same problem I had in the beginning.”
Clearly, both Prop. 36 and drug court have positives and negatives. Eventually it will be up to lawmakers to decide which should be the primary treatment program.
There are currently negotiations in the state Legislature to make Prop. 36 more like drug court in its restrictions and to require more testing and monitoring. Next year, the state will also decide whether to continue financing the proposition. If the money will not be there, the proposition will most likely go unused.
“I hope they continue it,” said Havel, who has thrived due to his treatment. “It is a very good thing.”
Success in numbers
Nevada County Drug Court statistics since 2002:
– Graduates: 30
– Graduates employed: 25
– Graduates attending college: 4
– Graduates re-arrested: 5
– Drug-free babies born: 3
– Fees paid: $15,780
– Families reunited: 27
Source: Nevada County Superior Court
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