The report authors found that, "the majority of people convicted of drug possession in Texas are sentenced to some form of incarceration." Indeed, when it came to low level drug cases, "Particularly in Texas and Louisiana, prosecutors did more than simply pursue these cases—they often selected the highest charges available and went after people as hard as they could." In support of that contention, said the report:
In 2015, according to data we analyzed from Texas courts, nearly 16,000 people were sentenced to incarceration for drug possession at the “state jail felony” level—defined as possession of under one gram of substances containing commonly used drugs, including cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, PCP, oxycodone, MDMA, mescaline, and mushrooms (or between 4 ounces and 5 pounds of marijuana).Remarkably,
One gram, the weight of less than one-fourth a sugar packet, is enough for only a handful of doses for new users of many drugs. Data presented here for the first time suggests that in 2015, more than 78 percent of people sentenced to incarceration for felony drug possession in Texas possessed under a gram. Possibly thousands more were prosecuted and put on probation, potentially with felony convictions. In Dallas County, the data suggests that nearly 90 percent of possession defendants sentenced to incarceration were for under a gram.
In Texas, between 2012 and 2016, approximately one of eleven people in prison had drug possession as their most serious offense; two of every three people serving time for drug charges were there for drug possession; and 116 people had received life sentences for drug possession, at least seven of which were for an amount weighing between one and four grams.There was this commentary regarding oft-cited failures of the probation system:
Although probation is a lesser penalty, interviewees in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas told us they felt “set up to fail” on probation, due to the enormous challenges involved in satisfying probation conditions (for example, frequent meetings at distant locations that make it impossible for probationers to hold down a job, but require that they earn money to pay for travel and fees). Some defense attorneys told us that probation conditions were so onerous and unrealistic that they would counsel clients to take a short jail or prison sentence instead. A number of interviewees said if they were offered probation again, they would choose incarceration; others said they knew probation would be too hard and so chose jail time.The Statesman account included this notable tidbit:
In Texas, where possession of even trace amounts of illegal drugs can lead to jail sentences, the report found that drug possession charges accounted for 78 percent of almost 900,000 misdemeanor and felony drug cases that were handled by state courts from September 2010 through January 2016.Other findings included:
- Drug possession cases accounted for more than 15 percent of all county and district court criminal dockets.
- Almost 80 percent of Texans incarcerated for drug possession received a state jail felony, meaning they had less than a gram — about the weight of one-fourth of a sugar packet — of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine, PCP, oxycodone and other common drugs, or between 4 ounces and 5 pounds of marijuana. A conviction for having less than a gram carries a potential jail term of six months to two years, while 1 to 4 grams can bring two to 10 years, the report said.
- A black person in Texas is 2.4 times more likely to be arrested for drug possession than a white person, although other studies have shown a similar rate of drug use among blacks and whites.