Friday, February 06, 2015

Lege can lower county jail costs by reducing incarceration for nonviolent offenses

The Dallas Morning News today published a column authored by your correspondent arguing that the Texas Lege could reduce the tax burden for local county jails by reducing penalties for two nonviolent offenses: low-level pot possession and subsequent offenses of driving with an invalid license. Changing both from a Class B to a Class C misdemeanor - or a civil penalty as Rep. Joe Moody has suggested for user-level marijuana possession - would have prevented more than 90,000 arrests last year for those two offenses. (The House County Affairs Committee explored this dynamic during the interim as part of an interim charge.)

Grits readers will be familiar with the column's pragmatic, less-government thesis: "Less government can’t just be about less taxes. If you want to cut the budget in a meaningful, sustainable way, you must identify something government is currently doing that costs money and choose not to do it." The article concluded thusly:
Those 90,000 or so arrests qualify as something the government is currently doing that costs money that the state could choose not to do. If the state would make that choice, it would reduce upward pressure on county property taxes, essentially removing an unfunded mandate. Plus, it would help “get the government out of the lives” of those 90,000 individuals, in particular, whose personal liberty interests in and of themselves are no small thing.

Does anybody seriously believe that public safety would be harmed?

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