- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 30, 2002

D.C. residents will vote Tuesday on a referendum that could save tax dollars and improve jail overcrowding by offering some nonviolent offenders the alternative of drug rehabilitation. But critics say that the District already has such a program and no money to pay for a new one.
The referendum, known as Measure 62, is sponsored by the D.C. Campaign for Treatment, a national organization promoting increased drug-treatment opportunities. It was added to the Nov. 5 ballot after the organization got the requisite 40,000 voter signatures on a petition.
"There is a drug-addiction crisis in the District," Opio L. Sokoni, the campaign coordinator said yesterday. "Jail cells are filling up with nonviolent drug offenders who need treatment, not incarceration."
More than 60,000 residents in the District have a substance-abuse problem, according to the D.C. Department of Health.
D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat, said that council members support the idea, but are concerned about how to pay for it.
"The money is the first hurdle," she said. "I am for the initiative only if the costs do not have to come out of the District's budget. We don't have a funding source."
If the referendum passes, the courts would have to give probation, 12 months of drug rehabilitation and six months of aftercare to defendants charged with illegal drug use or drug possession. The rehabilitation would include such services as vocational training, family counseling and anger management, Mr. Sokoni said.
The D.C. Department of Health would also have to establish an ombudsman's office, which would pick the programs for offenders and serve as the liaison between them and the courts when treatments fail.
Though Mr. Sokoni said that foundations and federal grants not D.C. taxpayers would pay for the initiative, critics say that the measure must be part of the budget of the District.
Wendy Salaam, chief of public policy for the Addiction Prevention Recovery Administration (APRA), said that such an initiative was "irresponsible" without provision of government money and could jeopardize new or existing programs.
"To create a program like this, which is treatment on demand, you have to provide money," she said. "We already have an all-inclusive program for people in the criminal justice system and for addicted residents of the District and the drug court."
The Drug Treatment Choice Act, a law sponsored by D.C. Council member David A. Catania, at-large Republican, was passed by the council and implemented this summer.
The program is administered by APRA, an office within the D.C. Department of Health, and provides residents with a $10,000 voucher for the drug-treatment program of their choice.
A spokeswoman from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District said that the initiative also has other problems.
She said that it includes no sanctions against offenders who fail to complete the program and no clear definition of nonviolent crimes.
For example, the initiative states that defendants failing to complete the program within 18 months could have their cases dismissed and the treatments terminated, could have their treatments extended for 18 months, or could face three months of supervision.
The program also is off limits to offenders using such Schedule I drugs as marijuana and heroin.
Miss Salaam said on-demand treatment works best when sanctions are included to encourage offenders to "stick it out." She also said that the U.S. Attorney's Office has taken that position on such initiatives across the country.
California passed a similar initiative in 2000, but officials think it's too early to determine its effectiveness, said Rosa Escutia, spokeswoman for that state's Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs. California appropriated $18 million for the initiative that lets defendants choose rehabilitation over probation or jail.
About 12,000 people have been treated, which she said is an "enormous initiative to implement."
Meanwhile, judicial, law enforcement, state and local officials are evaluating the program's first year. And the University of California at Los Angeles is conducting a study to determine whether the program is saving money by reducing the number of incarcerations.
"Success means different things to different people," Miss Escutia said. "Sometimes it means completing a [drug-rehabilitation] program. Sometimes it means just not being in the criminal system."

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