Houston’s Harris County is diverting some people arrested for marijuana possession from the criminal justice system, showing that the ripple effects of drug law reform over the past few years are being felt even in conservative states, according to a study published by Rice University's James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.
The study, entitled “Second Chances: the Economic and Social Benefits of Expanding Drug Diversion Programs in Harris County,” looks at how the First Chance Intervention Program (FCIP)—which diverts from the criminal justice system first-time offenders arrested for possession of less than two ounces of marijuana—could help the county save a significant amount of money, the study states. Booking fees for misdemeanor marijuana cases total nearly $2.6 million per year.
“The consequences of a drug arrest extend far beyond a criminal record. The briefest stint of incarceration increases the risk that a person will lose current employment and makes it more difficult to find work upon release,” write authors Katherine Neill and Jay Jenkins, describing the reasons for a growing consensus on the need for drug reform. “This decreases the likelihood that ex-offenders will reintegrate into society successfully and increases the odds that they may have to turn to illegal activity to earn a living.”
Harris County's program, launched in October 2014, is modeled on Seattle's Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program. Similar diversion programs have been implemented in Albany, N.Y. and Santa Fe, N.M.
The full study is available here.