Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Most felony drug convictions in Texas get incarceration as a sentence

The new Annual Statistical Report on the Texas Judiciary from the Office of Court Administration is out.

Grits took a quick look at the data for felony drug possession cases in Texas District Courts. On. p. 112 we see that District Judges in Texas generated just more than 25,000 new felony drug possession convictions in 2017. Of those, nearly all were sentenced to incarceration of some sort:
Sentences Related to Felony Drug-Possession Convictions in Texas, 2017 
Prison: 5,281
State Jail: 7,243*
Local Jail: 8,554
Probation/Community Supervision: 3,859
Shock probation: 15
Fine Only: 58
Other: 410
Only 15 percent of drug-possession convictions resulted in a probated sentence in 2017, according to these data. (Clarification: these sentencing data are only for convictions and do not include cases resulting in deferred adjudication. See the comments for a discussion.)

In an additional 8,557 drug cases, a defendant with a prior drug conviction was revoked to prison in 2017. So probation revocations accounted for about 40 percent of drug offenders entering TDCJ last year.

*State Jails are Texas' euphemism for prisons which hold low-level offenders who committed what are known in the Penal Code as "State Jail Felonies," the equivalent of a 4th degree felony. The maximum sentence is 2 years, most offenders stay just 6-9 months, and there is no supervision upon release. Offenders who've been in state jails notoriously have the highest recidivism rates of all Texas prisoners.


MsAC1 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doug Smith said...

I noticed this as well. The narrative we often hear is that people are choosing incarceration over probation, seeking to avoid lengthy, costly, and burdensome community supervision terms. The truth is more complicated. We did some research inside state jails, and found that only 25% of the people there were even offered probation as a plea agreement. It appears that most courts are just processing these cases with little regard for the high recidivism rate when people are incarcerated. Also, the majority of probation revocations are possession cases, so just trying to shift more people into probation is also an incarceration trap. Further, even if the state got better at diverting/treating, there remain a massive number of possession-related arrests - more than 50,000 last year (mostly less than 1 gram, but also some 1-4 gram cases). The answer seems to be pre-booking diversion in most communities combined with pre-trial intervention on those cases that do result in arrest. This is costly in terms of strain on treatment resources, but it could all be funded simply by lowering penalties on possession.

Anonymous said...


You neglected to include the 16,819 that received deferred adjudication in the same year and the 11,737 individuals whose cases were dismissed. By the way, those numbers total more than the sum of what you have already cited.

TundraJim said...

A few things I would note after my own quick look at those same numbers. You have to take into account how all the cases were disposed of, not just the ones that resulted in convictions. Deferred adjudication is essentially probation without a conviction, which according to the report, disposed of almost 17,000 cases. There are also nearly 12,000 dismissals, which could be for a variety of reasons, but if I were to make an educated guess, pre-trial diversion, which is essentially probation without going in front of the judge, would account for a large part of those. I'm also betting that those 9,000 cases that were sentences for county jail were 12.44(a) pleas (named for the Penal Code statute they're authorized under), where the defendant usually gets a time-served offer but gets a felony conviction. That leaves about 12,500 cases that resulted in state jail or prison time, but you'll also see there were about 8,500 probation revocations which were granted, and those almost always result in state jail/prison time. That would leave around 4,000 cases in which probation was not given when the defendant was sentenced, and I highly doubt it was for first-time offenders caught with a gram of meth. More likely, the amount of drugs was extremely high, and it was charged as a straight possession case instead of possession with intent to deliver, or the defendant's criminal history showed they weren't going to be a good candidate for probation in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous makes a good point. If you take the 25,364 total convictions and add the 16,819 deferred, you get 42,183. Deferred then makes up 40% of that total. Last time I checked, DFA was also probation. Not saying change still isn't needed, and I think pretrial diversion/intervention with treatment services is a good way to address the issue, but the whole thing is not quite as much drama when all the numbers are laid out there. If you're going to spoon-feed the numbers, tell the whole story.

Anonymous said...

1156 and 1233
I must defend Grits for a moment. As he has said many times. This blog is for his information and for tracking things he finds informative and for his own use and for his own beliefs. We cant expect him to include facts and all actual numbers that don't align with his own beliefs and opinions. That would contradictory to his own arguments and goals. Why would we expect him to do that? (eye rolling)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@11:56, et. al.: Look at the bottom of the Drug Possession column on p. 112 at "Sentencing Information." My calculations were based on THAT breakdown of sentencing outcomes.

Comparing it to the "dispositions" section, you're right, those outcomes appear not to include deferred adjudication. The numbers more or less align with the number of convictions, only. So you're right, it would have given a fuller picture to include them. Good catch, thank you.

As to 1:40, you clearly have read this blog before, but obviously not very closely. My purpose here is to think through issues and publicly display my thinking, PRECISELY so my thoughts can be vetted by people who may not agree with me. I look at some data and pull what strikes me as interesting or significant. This causes someone else to look at it who says, "hey, you missed this." And by the end of the conversation, maybe we've all learned something. Roll your eyes all you want. But when I insult a man, I have the balls to attach my name to it. Go look in the mirror and ask yourself why you don't.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@TundraJim, as I read the data, probation revocations are separate from the people convicted and sentenced to prison, not a subset.

Anonymous said...

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"That said, the purpose of this blog generally isn't to redistribute information to the masses. I record links and analyses here that I think I'll want to know later, and simply allow others to view it in the spirit of the era. Without being rude about it, stuff posted on Grits is there for my purposes, not readers'. :) Cheers!"
5/01/2018 02:25:00 PM

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Precisely, 9:00, and one of those purposes is "so my thoughts can be vetted by people who may not agree with me." Have a great day!