Treatment Not Jails

This week, California's treatment-not-jails law (Prop. 36) reportedly saves the state over $250 million in its first year; a Hawaiian medical marijuana patient receives a $2000 insurance check for her stolen marijuana plants; a high ranking NY DEA agent is charged with embezzling $150, 000; and America's prison population grows by 2.6 percent despite a falling crime rate.

July 22 -- California's The Argus reports: California's treatment-not-jails law for nonviolent drug offenders placed 30,469 people in treatment programs during its first year, according to its first official audit.

University of California, Los Angeles researchers - -- chosen by the state to track results of Proposition 36 of 2000, the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act - -- reported last week that:

About half those offenders were getting treatment for the first time;

86 percent went into outpatient drug-free programs, 10 percent into long-term residential programs and the rest into other treatment;

About half cited methamphetamine as their main problem, about 15 percent cited cocaine or crack and about 11 percent cited heroin;

About half were white, about 31 percent were Latino and about 14 percent were African-American, while 72 percent were men.

"The UCLA study proves that Proposition 36 works," said Daniel Abrahamson, the law's co-author and the Drug Policy Alliance's legal affairs director. "Tens of thousands of people who were previously denied treatment are getting it; hundreds of millions of dollars are being saved. And as a result, individuals, their families and their communities continue to get healthier."

July 26 -- The Honolulu Advertiser reports: A Hilo woman who smokes marijuana to treat her glaucoma received a check for $2,000 from her homeowners insurance company for the loss of four plants stolen from her yard.

Tammy VanBuskirk, 57, who has a state permit to grow a limited amount of marijuana and to use it with a doctor's approval, said the plants were stolen from her yard May 5.

Under a state law passed in 2000, patients with permits who are under a doctor's care may possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana and grow up to seven plants at a time for medical purposes.

July 27 -- The New York Post reports: A top official in the Drug Enforcement Administration's New York office is under investigation over allegations that he stole $150,000 from the agency, The Post has learned.

Kevin Tamez, 49, the No. 3 DEA man in the city, is a former internal-affairs investigator who allegedly used his rank and knowledge of the system to pull his scam, sources said.

He was suspended in March.

Internal investigators and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan have spent months trying to unravel Tamez's trail.

"It's a paper case," said one DEA source. "There's so much evidence."

While investigators expect to wrap up their case within a month, other agents are growing impatient waiting since March for an arrest, especially given Tamez's reputation as a hard-nosed boss.

"What makes this so crazy is that Tamez was an inspector in the Office of Professional Responsibility [in Newark]. He went out of his way to jam people up," said a second DEA source, who called Tamez's approach to supervision as "rule by terror."

The first source said Tamez was a "very aggressive" internal investigator who "came on too strong."

July 28 -- The Oklahoman reports: America's prison population grew again in 2002 despite a declining crime rate, costing the federal government and states an estimated $40 billion a year at a time of rampant budget shortfalls. The inmate population in 2002 of more than 2.1 million represented a 2.6 percent increase over 2001, according to a report released Sunday by the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Preliminary FBI statistics showed a 0.2 percent drop in crime during the same span.

Experts say mandatory sentences, especially for nonviolent drug offenders, are a major reason inmate populations have risen for 30 years. About one of every 143 U.S. residents was in the federal, state or local custody at year's end.

"The nation needs to break the chains of our addiction to prison and find less costly and more effective policies like treatment," said Will Harrell, executive director of the Texas American Civil Liberties Union. Others say tough sentencing laws, such as the "three strikes" laws that can put repeat offenders behind bars for life, are a chief reason for the drop in crime.

The cost of housing, feeding and caring for a prison inmate is roughly $20,000 per year, or about $40 billion nationwide using 2002 figures, according to The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization that promotes alternatives to prison.

Send tips and comments to Kevin Nelson drugwarbriefs@yahoo.com.

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