Thursday, October 13, 2016

Vast resources spent in Texas to criminalize drug addiction

The amount of resources spent in Texas criminalizing drug abuse remains vast, we're reminded by a new report from national ACLU and Human Rights Watch, which usefully honed in on drug enforcement trends and regional differences in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, and New York. In-state geographic disparities were notable in Texas: For example, 53 percent of drug arrests in Harris County are for marijuana, compared to 39 percent in Dallas County.

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).

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.


Anonymous said...

What a load of horse shit! How is it that one can read this whole post and not be informed that first time drug offenders convicted of possession of less than a gram are entitled go MANDATORY probation upon conviction and this has been the law for about eight years now. Was that just a minor oversight? In many instances they are placed on deferred adjudication probation and if they get adjudicated guilty they get...guess what...MANDATORY regular probation! Can you say TWO BITES AT THE APPLE? And this transparently biased crap is used to "inform" our policy makers in Austin? Give me a break!!!

Anonymous said...

To anon 9:35: I'm puzzled. How does a person getting "two bites at the apple" so to speak negate any of the data spelled out in this post? It wasn't saying nobody got probation, it was articulating how much money is spent prosecuting addiction.

It also very clearly spoke to the issue of probation. Maybe you missed it.

"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."

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@9:35, I've written about CCP 42.12 - the law you're talking about - many, many times on this blog, and in fact years ago in 2003 worked hard to help get the thing passed (eternal thank yous on that to Ray Allen, John Whitmire). I don't feel the need to reiterate every old Grits post (there are about 9,000 of them) each time new information arises about the same topic.

Anyway, following 10:14's response, how in Heaven's name is it misleading to identify the costs of enforcement for minor drug possession? Yes, it'd be more without mandatory probation on the first offense. But it's still so much that it merits discussion, and even with that provision, people get a felony drug conviction that affects future prospects, etc..

Beyond that, it must be mentioned that 42.12 only applies to state jail felonies. I'd like to see them ratchet down drug penalties one category across the board, but while they're at it, there's no reason not to give defendants convicted of possessing 1-4 gram levels (3rd degree felonies) access, too. Good (inadvertent) suggestion, thanks.

Anonymous said...

Like any government bureaucracy which is unsupervised, our Criminal Justice System has gotten bloated on tax payer money and is not accountable to anyone. It is a system looking for crime to justify its huge federal subsidies. This is why we have so many locked up.

If you wish to speak about two bites at the apple, there is an underlying assumption about the basic fairness of the system. My experience is that is a baseless assumption.

And yes, parole does seem designed to get people back to prison (more federal dollars?)

Anonymous said...

Don't forget you have to keep those jails FULL -
They are money makers. We should all be disgusted
that we are still the "land of the "free"" and have
more people incarcerated than any other country.
Can't be very proud of that. Give up small drug arrests
and pay attention to what is happening with terrorism.
Jails create terrorists of many young people - let's
rehab and let our tax dollars make people
whole again - put them back in the work force.

Anonymous said...

One of the things I would like to see included more in this report, as I only saw it briefly touched on, was the defendants choice of going to jail. I have previously worked in community supervision and I can tell you many offenders chose to go to prison over receiving treatment. When you have an offender on supervision and you are paying for that offender to go to treatment using TAIP funding (so no cost to the defendant for treatment) and they continue to use meth, heroin, and cocaine, you have to increase their treatment. Often with many state jail offenders they realize if they go into a state or community supervision funded residential program that addresses their addiction, provides cognitive based programing, and even provides transitional employment services to help them find employment, they figure out they get less time by just being sentenced to prison. I have seen offenders turn down 90 day treatment programs with the reasoning that they can have their supervision revoked and be in and out of jail sooner than if they did treatment and completed supervision. Community Supervision used to be the carrot to try and get offenders treatment and services, now with offenders realizing they can do less than half a 180 day state jail sentence in the county jail and then get released with time served, they think supervision is now too hard. They chose not to get treatment and instead chose to do jail/prison time. Then when these offenders get arrested again and a Presentence Investigation is conducted on them it shows they were previously given a chance at supervision and treatment and they chose not to comply with it and instead do jail time. When prosecutors see this, guess what, they don't want to have to spend the time jumping through the same hoops a second time and so they go straight for jail/prison time in the beginning and don't offer supervision.
While there are parts of the system that can be improved, you also have to look at the CHOICES the offender makes in how to deal with their supervision and circumstances. People scream for treatment, but when its provided they scream its too hard and chose jail instead after they have failed at supportive or intensive outpatient treatment.

Anonymous said...

Mandatory Supervision IS too hard. They make it that way, they want you to fail so they can keep their jobs. Offenders ARE 'set up' for failure. Think about all the State jobs it creates. It's BIG business in Texas and they have to keep offenders coming in and out to hold on to those jobs. Instead of manufacturing plants and industry we have TDCJ and all it's corruption. Sickening, sickening, sickening.

Anonymous said...

And I guess "mandatory supervision" caused the individual to commit the crime in the first place? "Mandatory supervision" caused the individual to get behind the wheel drunk? "Mandatory supervision" forced the individual to destroy someone's property and now they owe restitution to a victim that they are probably not paying?

Sometimes this blog turns into a forum for the uninformed and those that like to throw out pure bullshit somehow thinking it smells like the truth!

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why we care if people smoke pot, or even engage in stronger recreational drugs. I don't wish to have my money taken from me to tell other people how to live their lives. You call this a crime, but that is only because you have defined it as such. I don't believe it should be defined as such. It would be much cheaper to not prosecute these people in the same place.

He's Innocent said...

Let's not forget that at every single level of the criminal justice system there are private companies making money off these people. Every single level - save the actual court itself. Grits had a chart on here not that long ago that showed this. From private prisons to the telephone systems, to the for profit probation companies..... indeed it is all about the money.

Who pays that money? Sometimes the community pitches in, such as community addiction treatment. But invariably, much of the burden falls on the offender AND their families, who are often poor to begin with. That family often loses an income from their work, can easily lose their homes, and when their loved one returns, it is so damn hard to find employment that they end up virtually useless to their families.

Nobody but the private for profit companies and those employed to enforce these dumb laws has an interest in keeping incarceration in Texas at a shameful level.

Anonymous said...

It would be especially nice if Grits were inclined to report on the societal costs of methamphetamine abuse in Texas. That seems to be the current "drug of choice" in many communities across the state these days. In our county, it's shocking how many crimes have a methamphetamine nexus. And I'm not talking about property crimes committed to support a habit. I'm talking about crimes of violence, child abuse, and sexual offenses committed against both adults and children which are committed by offenders under the influence of meth. What about the costs of the CPS investigations, children placed in foster care, medical care for victims, etc. occasioned by the abuse of this horrible drug? But I guess that's probably contrary to the libertarian narrative suggested in this post that the government and criminal justice system is unnecessarily intruding into the lives of good ol' recreational pot and cocaine users who are otherwise harmless people who only need a little counseling at the most. Grits, you don't have a clue about the real nature of this problem.

Truth Seeker said...

Do you know the post where the post with that chart is located? I did a few searches and can't find it. I'm doing research and it would be helpful! Thank you.

john said...

(Ironically, that was posted on the 13th.) THE AMERICAN PEOPLE SEE & READ MOSTLY LIES, AS IF “NEWS.”
PLEASE SEE the new (2016) documentary, "13th"--which highlights the criminalization of blacks and hippies, etc., as if a drug war, and so on. Previously it had been based on the 13th Amendment loophole; but today, giant lobbyist, A.L.E.C., has been writing laws for years. [] We are criminalized, to silence us, too.
As you know, CONgressjacks are now wholly-owned by corporation(lobbyist)s. (See their bribes per vote, on the database, at
It's just another piece to the puzzling matrix you don't want to believe. The politicians who militarized the police did it, to inflict greater chill/fear/threat/damage, on We The Poor People. And yes, prisons provide a nice degree of profit, to the rulers.
Look at the sick overcrowding of the Houston jails, the vehemence of Law Enharshment, though many of the actual violent criminals get away!
The wrestling match for Texas power is in the hands of “Republicans,” on the big scale, but plenty of lefties, at least in the deep-city areas.
I don't know how to reach the sit-back Legislature, so busy building their own personal legacies. I see the usual lying ads for re/elections, and with the Electronic Voting Machines, and what could you expect to get better? Is the Legislature too coked-out or something, to wake up?
(This will all get worse, once Dan Patrick goes governor. SOMEONE else has GOT to get a radio station, for 24/7 counter-brainwashing.)
Are you guys really isolated enough to not step up, from the inside? Complaining isn't helping, BECAUSE WE HAVE NO TV-AD VOICE. NEARLY NO ONE SEES THIS.
On fantasy-TV & other “NEWS,” The T-Rump is being hammered for FAR LESS ABUSE & RAPES THAN Ex-Pres. B.J. COMMITTED, for an even LONGER PERIOD.

Always s Problem Never a Solution said...

Sheesh, 3:51.

Why don't YOU start your own blog about the shortcomings of Grits "libertarian narrative". Why don't YOU report on the societal costs of methamphetamine abuse?
It seems like YOU have a lot of time on your hands and a lot of questions. So maybe YOU should write a dissertation answering all the questions that you posed. Start with Google...

Please, O Great One Anonymous 3:51, please give us poor unenlightened folk a "clue" about the real nature of this problem.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@3:51, search around on this blog and you'll find I've written extensively on meth. Are you referring to the fact that there wasn't a cartel-driven market for it in Texas until the state banned precursor sales at the pharmacies a few years ago and Mexican suppliers stepped into replace local, mom-and-pop distributors?

I agree that was a problem and an example where increased government regulation had the unintended consequence of boosting violence and organized crime. If that's not what you're talking about, please be more specific.

Anonymous said...

not one person talks about kush fake weed, its the new meth and killing kids. i seen it destroy many people in so little time. grits this one is bad kids are really useing these drugs. weed and cocaine are not even being used by kids around here its so scary if nothing is done. what should we do ?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@6:31, that's a product that only exists because pot has been relegated to a black market. I'm wondering if it's a significant problem in Colorado, Washington, or other states with legal weed?

Anonymous said...

...evidence shows modest incapacitation effects while defendants are in jail or prison, these short-run gains are offset by long-term increases in post-release criminal behavior. What is particularly concerning is that not only is there a net increase in criminal activity but also a shift towards more serious illegal activity. Former inmates are documented as branching out to new types of crime, especially property (e.g. theft or burglary) and drug-related offenses.

see the link below:

Music Man said...

This to Scott, yes the problem of inequities in the drugs laws are an exorbitant (sp?) expense burden on the taxpayers, and the money can be better spent on rehab alternatives, etc. What I would like to see addressed in your blog is in regard to the rediculous, useless, sex offender laws that are diverting law enforcement resources from areas in which they are sorely needed, wasting tens of millions of taxpayer dollars, and making laws which make it virtually impossible for the registered citizen to reintigrate into society in order to become a productive law-abiding citizen. Not only are the resources that are diverted to enforcement of these laws an expensive endeavor by having had to create departments to handle the information, the cost of indigent SOs is enormous because the general populous ultimately has to bear the burden of free medical care as prescribed by laws for low income persons. We (yes, I am registered) find it very difficult, if not impossible, to find gainful employment, so many "displaced" SOs find it necessary to resort to to theft, petty or otherwise, is order to eat and meet other basic human needs.
And it is getting worse, as the legislators are pulling all these ideas out of thin air to add more lwas to the books in order to project the "appearance" of being tough on SOs. In the vast majority of cases, there is basically no difference in the person who has offended once, and the multiple offender. Yet, the laws are enhanced in the guise of "Countinuous Sexual Abuse of a Child", "Two or more Count of......", "Two or more Victims", in order to appease the voters.
As for playing to the voters, after a city counsel meeting to vote on a residency restriction, during which we presented study after study showing that the ordinances are useless, I queried 2 council member as to why, in the face of the evidence, they voted it in. Their answe, "To get the votes". That is an exact quote.
Because of this tough-on-on SO stance, I have to register every 90 days for life simply due having 2 victims, a crime that ocurred once each in 1989. Of couse this does not make what I did any "less", but I am classified as low risk, but penalized and PUNISHED for the rest of my life right along with the high risk.
Of course, it would be political suicide for a lege to state the statistics and educate the public on where the problem actually lies: in the child's on home, or by others known and trusted by the parents and children. It has been shown in hundreds of studies that the lwas do not work., mainly because the recidivism rate is only 5%. These laws are so stupid that an SO cannot even attend his child's school play, attend parent-taecher meetings when children are present, and cannot even transport their children to and from school.
It is way past time that these laws be changed. But I fear that the laws will not change until all the people who love to hate stop feeling so indignant, sanctimonious, and morally superior.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@Music Man, search around on this blog and you'll find that I've written a lot on those questions over the years, particularly when all the "Condition X" stuff was being litigated, though admittedly it hasn't been a great focus lately. Right now, the courts are probably a better vehicle for addressing those concerns than the legislature, which is why Mary Sue Molnar and Texas Voices have been focused in that venue recently.

He's Innocent said...


Here is a link to the original article that had the AMAZING chart about how private companies are involved at every level of criminal justice, save the actual courts.

Mark M. said...

Anon 9:32: you assume that whatever drug of choice a person uses is something the state should have the authority to regulate? although your bread is buttered by the current substance of prohibition, a more open-minded consideration of the issues would reveal the fallacy of your choice of blinders.

Anonymous said...

@Mark.M you assume many things. At no point did I advocate for or dispute the states right to regulate anything. Furthermore, I stated I previously worked for community supervision, I no longer do and my bread is not "buttered" by them. If you would read my previous statement again you will note I was focused on the offenders choices. Despite what people may think, not everyone who works or worked in community supervision wants/wanted people to be revoked and sent back to prison. Speaking for myself, I tried everything I could to bring offenders into compliance with their conditions and offered up all the services I could to get them help in the areas where they were struggling with compliance. No matter what my personal beliefs on substance use is, the offenders, as well as the officers, are governed by the conditions set by the court and both are held accountable to comply with those conditions. My entire point was as stated, "While there are parts of the system that can be improved, you also have to look at the CHOICES the offender makes in how to deal with their supervision and circumstances." People spend so much time pointing out flaws in the system, which there are many, they often ignore an offenders own role in the success or failure of their supervision. Community Supervision Departments do not write the laws or the conditions an offender is held accountable to, but they are responsible for the enforcement of those conditions. If an offender makes the choice not to comply the department and officer cannot just ignore the noncompliance. There are many officers out there who hold offenders under their thumb waiting for them to mess up and send them to the court, but there are also many MORE officers who truly are trying to help offenders and get them the services they need, but often many of those offenders refuse those services that will keep them from going to court and possibly to prison. Both areas must be addressed equally. An individual is responsible for their choices.