So far this year, 390 Houston jail inmates have waited for drug-treatment slots to open, reports the Houston Chronicle. An additional 487 inmates are waiting to enroll in residential drug treatment programs outside the jail. Waits often run 12 to 16 weeks. The in-house effort is an attempt to address the relatively few public drug treatment programs available in the nation’s third-largest county, one that traditionally has emphasized incarceration over rehabilitation.
The result is a revolving door in which thousands of inmates are warehoused in the crowded county jail, then released with little or no treatment. The Harris County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council says 20,086 drug possession cases were filed last year. Of those, 12,403 involved possession of less than a gram of a controlled substance, usually cocaine. More than 7,700 involved repeat offenders, including 3,650 with five or more previous drug-related offenses. “We are not even close to having enough resources,” said Leonard Kincaid of the Council on Alcohol and Drugs-Houston. “We are still grossly underfunded to meet the needs of our community.” Caprice Cosper, a former judge who now directing the newly created Harris County Criminal Justice Council, said, “The bigger question is how do we motivate them into treatment? That’s where the criminal justice system could be a key motivator in dealing with addiction and getting into treatment.”