Overlooked Texas bill allows police to cite and release for pot possession, will counties take advantage to ease jail costs?
On September 1st, 2007, Texas HB 2391 went into effect with the support of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). This bill allows an officer in the field to perform an arrest for possession of marijuana, then qualify the arrestee as eligible for a field release. If the arrestee qualifies for a field release, the officer releases the person with a summons to appear in court.
MADD supported this legislation for a very good reason. A typical marijuana arrest uses three to four hours of an officer’s time. When that same offense can be handled in thirty minutes, an officer has more time in the field to find drunk drivers or any other criminal who may be disrupting the safety of the community.
HB 2391 does not change the sentence for the arrestee should they be found guilty in court. They may still face up to 180 days in jail and a fine up to $2,000. The only benefit the arrestee may find would be the ability to go home on the day of arrest, instead of spending that night in jail.
We are currently in the year 2013. Did you know that this has been available to police departments and officers for 6 years? I didn’t know until about six months ago.
The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a non-partisan non-profit organization which studies the efficiency of our jails and prisons in Texas, published an amazing report that describes the counties which have opted in to the benefits of HB 2391. In the report titled Costly Confinement & Sensible Solutions: Jail Overcrowding in Texas, TCJC quotes Major Scott Burroughs of Travis County Sheriff Department as he describes the process they use to implement cite-and-summons.
After [deputies] conduct their investigation and determine that probable cause exists, [they] make an arrest. They then determine whether the arrestee fits under the guidelines laid out in HB 2391. Deputies determine whether the arrestee lives in the county and if any other warrants exist. If the person has an existing warrant or lives outside the county, he or she is taken to the Travis County Jail like normal. If the person resides within Travis County and does not have another warrant, the arrested individual is given a field release citation and told to report for book-in and bonding on the third Thursday after the offense was committed, effectively making book-in part of the bonding procedure instead of the arrest procedure. That third Thursday, the person must report first to the justice of the peace court where the justice of the peace issues an order of commitment. The arrestee then reports to the pretrial facility and fills out an application for personal bond and goes to the bonding desk for fingerprinting and photographing. The person then returns to the justice of the peace court to be released on personal bond and given a first court appearance date in front of a county court-at-law judge.
Lubbock county ranks number two in all of the Texas counties to export inmates to other jails/prisons. In 2010, Lubbock County exported over 220 inmates at the cost of Lubbock’s taxpayers. If Lubbock were to opt in to the benefits of HB 2391, the county could completely eliminate the need to export inmates to other institutions. By not jailing non-violent class C and B misdemeanors and finding punishments which don’t include jail time, the county would turn a taxpayer’s expense into a fiscally responsible solution.
This past Thursday I went to speak with a member of the Lubbock city council to try and understand why Lubbock has chosen not to opt in to the benefits of HB 2391. When we talked, it was obvious that they had no idea this was even an option. The council member was also unaware that Lubbock exports more criminals than any other county in Texas, save Harris County. As a fiscal conservative, the council member was really excited about the idea of placing more responsibility into the hands of the arrestee and keeping the cost of the county as low as possible.
Hub City NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) has been a chapter in Lubbock for four months now. The council member did tell us, without hesitation, that if we had the support of the sheriff, the DA, and the community (other than NORML members), that they would really like to see something similar to Travis County’s procedure implemented in Lubbock. They also made it very clear to us that this issue should be presented to the county commissioners and city council by an organization other than NORML. The council member fully believes that if NORML were to present this issue to the decision makers, it would be seen as an attempt to lessen the offense for marijuana users (which is exactly why I was talking to them), and be received more warmly if presented by another organization.
It only seems to make sense to provide a reasonable solution to Lubbock’s overcrowding problem. Especially if the solution has been implemented by other counties in Texas, and benefits are obviously available. Continuing to practice criminal justice in Lubbock which includes exporting inmates is grossly irresponsible, immoral, and fiscally unsound. The time to change is now, and the method of change is available to Lubbock.
There is a Chief of Police in Washington State who has offered his time to come to Lubbock to help us use taxpayers dollars more wisely. His offer includes training officers in cite-and-release as well as adopting other solutions. One solution he had mentioned was the ability for officers to forgo processing and booking, and drive right past the jail with an arrestee. His solution includes using officer’s discretion to take an arrestee to a social service program, like counseling or treatment centers rather than making a crime out drug possession.
As a NORML member, and Executive Director of a NORML chapter, my ideal end game includes cannabis possession, cultivation, and use with no penalties attached. Rationally, especially in Texas, I believe that baby steps toward the ideal end game are steps in the right direction.
While HB 2391 does NOT reduce the penalties for marijuana possession, I do believe that opting in to a procedure that includes cite-and-summons would be a great step forward for both Lubbock and Texas.
By: Colt Smith
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