Here’s another Chron story about the recent dust-up between Harris County DA Pat Lykos and six Harris County police groups that don’t like her policy that trace amounts of crack will not be prosecuted as felonies. Two points that are worth highlighting from the story:
State District Judge Michael McSpadden has presided over Houston’s criminal cases since 1982. In that time, he said, the “War on Drugs” has been lost and he has changed his mind about his “get tough on crime” stance. He urges a policy of treatment and second chances for addicts.
“Pat Lykos and I are not close, and in fact probably don’t like each other, but she’s right about this,” the veteran jurist said this week. “Almost everyone’s in agreement except, I guess, the police unions.”
McSpadden said he, not Lykos, has led the charge to change how these trace cases are handled.
“No one respects law enforcement more than I do, but they’re wrong about this,” McSpadden said. “I want them out there going after the career criminals, the sex offenders, the people who pose a real threat to our society, and not someone who has a residue amount of drugs.”
I agree completely with this sentiment. Doing otherwise, which is to say what we have been doing all along, is unsustainable, unaffordable, and unjust. The effect of Lykos’ policy change is clear:
In November, Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee and others tasked with criminal justice reform said Lykos has been instrumental in reducing the jail population, and her trace policy is the big piece of the equation. Statistics on how many trace cases are affected are hard to come by because possession of little baggies of cocaine or methamphetamine and small crack rocks fall in the same category as the trace cases once did: possession of less than a gram.
In 2009, there were 10,674 charges for that offense according tho the DA’s office. After the policy, the numbers fell to 5,942 in 2010 and so far this year are at 5,235.
And while police could count the number of paraphernalia tickets issued, officials say this number is not indicative of the actual number of stops because cops on the street are loathe to do hours of paperwork to issue a ticket punishable by a $500 fine.
According to numbers available through the county’s Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, authorities believe the policy means there are about 400 fewer inmates in jail on any given day, part of a 2,000 inmate decrease over the past two years.
The Harris County Jail is overcrowded and understaffed. We ship out inmates to other counties and to Louisiana because we don’t have any place to put them. We can spend a hundred million dollars building more jail space and millions more every year running it, an option the voters rightly rejected in 2007, or we can be smarter about who we put in jail. Like it or not, those are the choices.
By the way, the campaign of Mike Anderson, the Republican running in the primary against Lykos who sided with the cops on this issue, sent out a press release Monday announcing that he had received the endorsement of our old buddy Steve Hotze. I’m not sure why they have me on their press distribution list, but they do so you can see that release here. Those of you reading this who vote in Republican primaries, as far as I’m concerned you now have two reasons not to vote for Mike Anderson in March. Grits has more.