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Implementing a Diversion-to-Treatment Law in California: Orange County's Experience

NCJ Number
Federal Probation Volume: 75 Issue: 3 Dated: December 2011 Pages: 25-30
Date Published
December 2011
6 pages

This study examined the experiences of criminal justice practitioners of Orange County, CA, as they implemented Proposition 36, one of the largest and most comprehensive diversion-to-treatment laws in the United States.


On July 1, 2001, Proposition 36 completely changed how California deals with minor drug offenders, moving from a crime-control model to an addiction treatment model. The groups that opposed the law, mostly organizations of criminal justice practitioners, represented the agencies required to implement it. Specifically, Proposition 36, also known as the Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act (SACPA) of 2000, mandates that adults in California convicted of nonviolent drug possession offenses, and not disqualified by concurrent offenses or previous criminal history, be offered probation with drug treatment in the community in lieu of traditional sentencing (30-90 days in jail followed by probation). It prohibits the use of incarceration even for probation violations. A core group of six people were essentially drafted by default to orchestrate the implementation of SACPA in Orange County. This core group included one to two representatives from Orange County's Health Care Agency (HCA), Probation Department, District Attorney's Office, Public Defender's Office, and Superior Court. These same agencies are involved in drug court in the county. A pilot study was conducted prior to the official implementation of SACPA, in order to identify issues that must be addressed and to move eligible offenders through the system. As part of the pilot study, district attorneys and public defenders identified eligible offenders using criteria specified in SACPA. They then offered eligible offenders a sentence of probation with a condition of drug treatment. Much can be learned by examining how the core group worked together despite its differences in order to overcome hurdles and implement a radical change in criminal justice policy. 13 references

Date Published: December 1, 2011