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How Treatment Works in California


A person convicted of a nonviolent, non-serious drug-related offense may be eligible for alternative sentencing. Jails and prisons do not treat addiction—that is not their purpose. Drug diversion programs are designed to treat addiction. Statistics prove individuals who complete drug diversion programs have a lower recidivist rate than individuals who spend the entirety of their sentences in jail or prison.

Eligibility of court-mandated Treatment

Eligible individuals are those convicted of using or possessing small quantities of illegal drugs. Additional eligibility requirements for court-mandated treatment alternatives to incarceration in the state of California are outlined in the excerpt below from the California Penal Code:

  • The defendant has no conviction for any offense involving controlled substances prior to the alleged commission of the charged offense
  • The offense charged did not involve a crime of violence or
    threatened violence
  • There is no evidence of a violation relating to narcotics or
    restricted dangerous drugs other than a violation of the sections
    listed in this subdivision
  • The defendant’s record does not indicate that probation or
    parole has ever been revoked without thereafter being completed.
  • The defendant’s record does not indicate that he or she has
    successfully completed or been terminated from diversion or deferred entry of judgment pursuant to this chapter within five years prior to the alleged commission of the charged offense
  • The defendant has no prior felony conviction within five years
    prior to the alleged commission of the charged offense

Barring mitigating circumstances, once a person completes the treatment program, his criminal charges are dismissed.

Treatment Options

Treatment options vary depending on what is mandated by the court. Judges routinely sentence defendants to residential treatment. Sentencing can be up to one year, though the average length of stay is between 60 and 90 days. Residential treatment is not the same as staying in a sober living home. Treatment involves counseling, group activities, structured meal times, classes, etc. A sober living environment—SLE—has house rules, chores and curfews. SLEs serve as an ideal housing option for someone transitioning from residential treatment back to everyday existence.

Residential treatment provides a safe and structure environment. Far from being an easy alternative to jail or prison, treatment requires hard work and commitment. Disciplinary infractions or failing to comply with program rules will result in the individual being returned to jail or prison to complete his sentence. Residential treatment includes the following components:

  • Individual therapy for drug and alcohol addiction. This type of therapy focuses on correcting attitudes and behaviors which lead to relapse.
  • Addicts and alcoholics have been described as children trying to live in the adult world. Cognitive behavioral therapy—CBT—focuses on examining the relationship between one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors. The therapist and the patient collaborate on developing better coping skills.
  • Motivational interviewing attempts to resolve an addict’s ambivalence toward abandoning the drug and alcohol lifestyle. Motivational interviewing is of particular importance for individuals with legal issues stemming from their substance abuse. A judge makes the final determination regarding a defendant’s future. Judges who preside over drug courts and treatment programs are savvy individuals. They have no trouble distinguishing sincerity from saccharine. They will return an individual to jail or prison if they believe she is just going through the paces of rehab.
  • Group therapy offers safety in numbers and builds a sense of community. Not everyone in treatment is court-ordered. When patients share with each other, they build trust. Most alcoholics and addicts have trust issues. Group therapy can break down walls and open up avenues for communication.
  • Holistic therapies treat the mind and body. Proper nutrition is essential for restoring normal cognitive functions. Yoga is a proven therapy for quieting the mind and reducing stress. Psychiatrists can’t say exactly why equine therapy works as well as it does. Some therapists believe the relationship between the horse and the caretaker builds an unbreakable bond. Others suggest the horse’s dependence on the human for food, shelter and grooming instills a higher order of humanity in the individual. Or it just could be horses are magical.
  • Medication can mitigate cravings, lessen withdrawal symptoms, interrupt negative thinking and stabilize a person’s mood. When used in conjunction with therapy, medication is an effective therapeutic tool.