Since July 2006, there have been just over 1,400 drug-related convictions by federal prosecutors in South Texas, according to data from the U.S. Department of Justice.That's 35,000 convictions for drug offenses over two years in one Texas county, folks, albeit the county whose size and punitive judiciary exert an exceptional and negative influence on state policy. Legislative testimony earlier this year revealed that about 85% of felony drug cases in Houston - 12,000 out of 14,000 drug indictments in 2006 - were for possessing less than a gram of a controlled substance, or less powder than is in a Sweet-N-Low packet. The recent SCOTUS ruling won't affect any of those cases.
In contrast, the Harris County District Clerk's office said nearly 35,000 convictions for drug offenses were secured in county courts from Jan. 1, 2005, through Dec. 31, 2006, the most recent data available.
Indeed, the flood of low-level court cases in Houston led long-time State District Judge Michael McSpadden in recent years to implore the Legislature and Governor Perry to reduce drug possession sentences for small amounts, declaring that "These minor offenses are now overwhelming every felony docket, and the courts necessarily spend less time on the more important, violent crimes."
Not only that, every one of those convicted of a felony loses access to many employment and housing options that might otherwise help them pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
Texas doesn't suffer statutory crack sentencing disparities like in the federal system, but that doesn't mean there's no problem with racial disparities in enforcing existing drug laws, most especially for black people. "Blacks make up 11 percent of the population of Texas," reported the Chronicle, "yet 46 percent of drug offenders serving time in the state's prisons are black, according to figures provided by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice."
The existence of racial disparities in Texas drug enforcement is obvious; the reasons for it, less so. We could debate here all day the reasons for racial disparities without reaching any firm conclusion. I don't know the answer to that complicated question.
But in an era when Texas prisons are completely full and severely understaffed, a bigger overall problem for law abiding citizens of all races, as Judge McSpadden indicates, is that the excessive focus of state and local policing, judicial, and incarceration resources on drug crimes reduces resources available to incarcerate more serious offenders, including violent criminals. That makes everyone less safe, including, disproportionately, black victims of violent crime.