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Drug War Has Texas Criminal Justice System Near 'Meltdown,' Says Senate Committee Chair


March 1993

The zealous pursuit of the war on drugs has pushed the Texas criminal justice system "very near a meltdown," according to the Chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee (Christy Hoppe, "Drug Crackdown Fills Prison, Hits Blacks Worst, Study Says: Arrests Often for Possessing Small Amounts of Coke, Crack," The Dallas Morning News, 2/11/93, 1A; Christy Hoppe, "New Prisons Won't Remove Inmate Backlog, Report Says: Texas Felons Awaiting Cells May Almost Double By '95," The Dallas Morning News, 2/3/93, 1A).

Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston), was commenting on a report showing that the drug crackdown has overburdened state prisons, resulting in a hugely disproportionate impact on blacks and those possessing tiny amounts of cocaine. Sixty-four percent of those convicted of cocaine possession were holding less than half a gram, according to the study by the Texas Justice Policy Council, an independent state study group.

The study surveyed 58,266 people convicted of felonies in 1991. About one-fourth of the offenders were imprisoned for drug possession, compared to 6 percent who were sentenced for murder or sexual assault. In Harris and Dallas counties, with black populations of slightly less than 20 percent, about 60 percent of imprisoned felons were black. The conviction rate among blacks is 3,064 per 100,000 adults compared to 781 for Hispanics and 493 for whites. The report shows that Texas prisons will be overwhelmed by a flood of new felons within four years despite massive prison building, with the number of felons awaiting cells expected to nearly double by 1995, from the current 19,000 to 34,000. By August 1995, new prisons, drug treatment lock-ups, and temporary prison facilities will hold a total of about 110,000 inmates.

On February 1, the state Senate approved $250 million in emergency spending targeted mainly for building and running state prisons. The action was awaiting House action.