Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Like we don't have enough laws on the books

The other day my eye was caught by a Grits for Breakfast post about the number of bills proposed this legislative session that would either create new criminal offenses or enhance penalties for existing crimes.

At some point we need to have a little bit of sanity in Austin. We don't need a bevy of new criminal offenses. What we need is some serious analysis of what's now on the books. We need to ask our legislators whether our existing penal code makes sense - and whether we can afford to keep doing what we're doing.

At the rate we're going there is going to come a day when everyone on this state is either a convicted criminal or on paper. Hell, we might need to start charging fetuses with something or another so that they will be under the government's thumb from the get-go.

Of course it's better politics to say "there ought to be a law..." whenever something bad happens to someone else - unless that law would, in some way, restrict the ability of a god-fearing Texan to load up on as many guns and rifles as he can fit in his survival bunker and as much ammo as he can fit in his tote from the Container Store. No one gets elected because they got rid of an unnecessary provision of the penal code - hell, it's in there for a reason, ain't it?

We need to take a serious look at our drug laws. What we're doing isn't working - and I don't think anyone would disagree. The first thing I would do is reduce - by one degree - the punishment for all drug possession offenses. It makes no sense to charge a person with a state jail felony for possessing less than a sugar packet-full of cocaine. It makes little sense to arrest a kid for possessing less than two ounces of marijuana.

Possession of less than two ounces of marijuana should be a Class C misdemeanor fine-only offense. In many counties if you're charged with possession of marijuana you can negotiate a plea to a charge of possession of drug paraphernalia, a fine-only offense, instead. Why bother with the charade any longer?

At some point I would hope we realize that the criminal (in)justice system is not designed to handle public health issues like addiction. And I don't care how many "drug courts" you come up with - addicts need treatment and, if that treatment is going to be successful, it needs to be voluntary. We don't need the courts waiting to pounce on the recovering addict who falls off the wagon now and then. He or she needs encouragement - not a seat on a hard wooden pew or a bed in the jail.

Instead of increasing the number of crimes and jacking up sentences, we need to spend money on drug treatment and rehabilitation programs so that the addicts caught up in our criminal (in)justice system - mostly lower income blacks and Latinos - don't end up in a revolving door to the jail.

But then, actually addressing a problem isn't nearly as sexy for a legislator as standing in front of a microphone and telling the voters that "there ought to be a law..."

1 comment:

Lee said...

The term for that is overcriminalization and it is a cancer to the legal industry. A good example is in the TX state legislature in 2011 when Rep. Dan Flynn decided that those misrepresenting the size of their fish in a fishing tournament should be charged with a felony. The end result is the end of an otherwise productive nonviolent citizens contribution to the economy and government via services and taxes but also the obligation of the taxpayers to facilitate the expenses of about $24,000.00 per year for two to ten years. They call that "cowboy Texus tuff on crim" but is one of a very long list of failures by our legislature.