Texas Senate Bill Supports Rehab Instead Of Imprisonment For Drug Possession

As Texas legislators grapple with funding the state for the next two years, there is an effort to change how the state deals with those people convicted of possession of illegal drugs. The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition claims that its approach would save a lot of money and have a better outcome.

The Coalition claims that Texas is spending about $750,000 a day to keep about 15,000 people in prison for being in possession of a controlled substance, not those who have sold drugs or intended to sell drugs, just those in possession of them.  And it costs even more when you add in other non-violent convictions.

Texas spends $3-billion a year, three-billion a year, on the mere incarceration of individuals, and 50% of them are there for non-violent, non-sex related crimes.

Dr Ana Yanez-Correa is TCJC's executive director.

"Ninety percent of the money of that $3 billion I was talking about goes toward just incarceration. Only a very few percent of that money goes to anything changes criminal behavior."

She says people who have only possessed an illegal drug, come out of prison with many road blocks on the way to getting their lives back on track.

"They don't come out any better. What's happening right now is that you have people who suffer from drug addiction; they end up behind bars; they come out and not only do they come still addicted, they come out with a record. Now, what does that mean? It means they can't get a job; they can't get housing; they can't get additional benefits that they would need, so that leads to other criminal behavior."

Which brings us to what to do about it: TCJC and other groups, like the Texas Business Association and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, are pushing for probation and treatment instead of prison. They say it is cheaper, about five times less expensive than incarceration, and that treatment actually addresses the drug problem at the root of the criminal behavior.

"You cannot cure addiction by locking it up, that's just not what happens."

Dr Yanez Correa says what should happen is laid out in Senate Bill 90 sponsored by Houston state Senator Rodney Ellis. It calls for probation followed by a risk assessment and then placement in an appropriate treatment program. There would be follow-up assessments and support and if everything works out, the person’s record would be sealed.

"The nice thing about the bill also is that 50% of the savings, we're getting by diverting people away from prison goes back to the very same communities to strengthen the treatment infrastructure."

She says there is some push back from lawmakers and district attorneys, who don't want to appear soft on crime, but she's hopeful the tightening budget and support from the public will help lawmakers realize that addiction is a health problem that can't cost effectively address.

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Rod Rice

Local Anchor, Morning Edition

Rod Rice became fascinated with radio at an early age, while sitting on his Grandfather’s lap listening to his "programs" on the big Emerson Radio...