According to the Houston Chronicle, there has been a 31 percent decline in the Harris County jail population since 2008 that will allow for the County to house all of its own inmates in its own facilities for the first time in five years.
The sharp drop in the jail population is due, in large part, to Harris County’s efforts to stop jailing as many misdemeanants and offenders found with trace amounts of drugs. Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos made the decision to stop handing down felony indictments to those caught with trace amounts of drugs or with paraphernalia. As a result, there has been a 56 percent decrease in case filings for drugs of less than one gram, or a decline of almost 5,000 cases.
Right-sizing jail populations in Harris County will save taxpayers millions. Over the last two years, the cost of sending prisoners to other states due to overpopulation in Harris County jails was $31 million dollars, but now the exportation of both prisoners and taxpayer dollars can be avoided.
The Texas Public Policy Foundation has shown that jail time for low-level drug possession offenders does not give taxpayers the best bang for their buck. The price of housing and feeding low-risk offenders is much more expensive than probation or rehabilitation programs, which have proved to be more effective than jail time in these cases. A sensible approach to law enforcement when dealing with low-level drug possession and other minor offenses can provide significant savings for taxpayers and result in a more effective criminal justice system.