Sunday, January 14, 2018

Texas should replicate OK approach on drug felonies

Your correspondent has maintained for years that, after Jim Thorpe left, the best thing ever to come out of Oklahoma was I-35. Grits has long been a staunch advocate for a border wall, but would prefer it built along the Red River instead of the Rio Grande. However, after Okie voters approved adjustments to the criminal code to reduce sentences for user-level drug possession to a misdemeanor, perhaps it's time to cast off such dated views.

Prosecutors in Oklahoma County, reported The Oklahoman, filed 24% fewer felony cases in 2017 compared to 2016, declining from 10,043 filed in 2016 to 7,628 in 2017, or a 24% drop. The increase would be even bigger but the new drug laws didn't take effect until July. Estimated the local public defender, "Probably at least two-thirds of the decrease was the decision of the voters to pass the criminal justice reform measure on lowering felonies to misdemeanors for low-level theft crimes and for drug possession charges." Which means that not only did the new law successfully reduce prison admissions by diverting low-level drug cases, other felony crimes appear to have declined at the same time. (N.b.: Drug manufacturing and distribution remain felonies.)

Texas has passed numerous justice reform measures in recent years, but our Legislature has balked at the drug policy change Okie voters made. Now that the approach has been proven to work, Texas should follow their lead.


David E said...

I suppose you're being on the facetious side of the ledger, so I as a native Oklahoman will just smile and let that pass (How's that football thing working for you?).

Oklahoma's lowering of incarceration levels was a matter of finances. The prison system was/is facing massive construction of new facilities that would probably break the bank. They had to do something, and quickly (See "Sooner"). The building issue was about to hit Oklahoma where it really hurts - the pocketbook (Perhaps there's an allusion for Longhorn football here. At least, they could try).

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@ David E, definitely joking. My parents are both from Dalhart (Dallam Co. borders OK and NM) and I have family from the Oklahoma panhandle, so TX/OK rivalry jokes are basically part of my DNA. And yes, the football thing's a little rough right now (though I enjoyed the 2015 game). That said, there's a reason a "native Oklahoman" moves to Texas - even y'all know the best thing to come out of Oklahoma is I-35, you voted with your feet to prove it!

The OK drug law may have been a matter of finances, but it was voters, not state leaders, who pulled the trigger, and the DAs bitterly opposed it (amazing the voters supported it, anyway). That OK voters backed it on the same ballot they elected Trump, and by a similar margin, gives me hope that conservative TX voters may think the same way, if the issue were ever put to them.

Anonymous said...

Well done---Texas drug laws are a de facto relief act for bar associations.