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More on the new DA drug policy

Mark Bennett notes the new policy for dealing with trace amounts of drugs as announced by the Harris County DA’s office and suggests there’s little to be concerned about.

What we’re really talking about here is a small number of people—the Harris County Sheriff’s Office guesses that 750 or fewer people are in Harris County’s jails for possession of trace amounts of controlled substances; there are a few people serving sentences of between six months and two years in State Jail as well for trace cases. The Office of Applied Studies of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration estimated that 8% of Americans over the age of 12 were current illicit drug users. Harris County has almost 4 million people. If (interpolating from Houston 2000 numbers here) 81.4% of those people are over 12 and 8% of those people are current drug users, then more than 250,000 Harris County residents are current illicit drug users.

In a county of nearly four million, can incarcerating 3% or 6% of the illicit drug users at any one time make a statistically significant difference in the amount of violent or property crime? It might, though I haven’t noticed any shortage of methheads wandering up and down my street under the current regime; I think Pat Lykos has indicated that she is willing to consider the possibility that things will get worse under her new policy.

If the resources taken to prosecute those 750 or 1500 people are then turned toward investigating and prosecuting thieves, burglars, and robbers will there be a net loss in public safety over six months? Pat Lykos is betting that there won’t. If she’s wrong, she can try something different, and if she’s right she has improved the criminal justice system for all time.

I should note that Mark had heard rumors about this change in policy back in October, and mentioned them again on his blog nearly a week before the Chron story appeared. Nicely done, Mark!

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