Sunday, March 16, 2008

Getting smart on drugs

By Libby

My friend and long time drug policy reformer Dean Becker was featured in a CBS Houston segment about prisons in Texas. It was well done and surprisingly pro-reform, which I think is a testament to the fine and relentless work of the Texas policy reform community. I especially liked this bit, quoting a local judge.
Consider this, of the 50,000-plus felony filings in Harris County courts last year, 20,500 were drug possession cases.

“Of the 20,500 cases, about 12,500 cases were for possession of less than one gram of penalty group one controlled substances: crack, heroine, meth,” the judge said.

Still more interesting: “Of that number, 7,500 were repeat offenders,” Judge Cosper said. “This was not their first time in the justice system, and there were actually 3,400 cases that involved people who had five or more felonies primarily for possession.”
That should lay to rest any doubts that the war on some drugs lies at the root of the prison overcrowding problem.

I agree with Dean that the best solution is to legalize drugs in order to control them in more than just name, but the piece goes on to examine the Star court alternative that sentences addicted offenders to treatment in lieu of jail. Considering the program has delivered good outcomes, meaning addicts who have kicked the habit and obtained gainful employment at half the cost of incarceration, you would think that our country could find the political will to at least redirect our energies in that direction. It would be a good start.

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