Tens of thousands of Chicagoans — mostly Black men — have been jailed in the past two decades on drug charges that police, prosecutors, and judges all knew from the beginning were never going to stick, costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars every year, reports the Chicago Sun-Times.
Roughly half of the drug possession cases in Chicago between 2000 and 2018 — about 140,000 — were dropped at their earliest stages. An examination of all 10,480 cases from 2018 in which drug possession was the most serious charge found that a whopping 72 percent were tossed out.
Under Illinois law, all drug possession cases involving less than 15 grams — as little as a single pill of Xanax or a grain of heroin — are lumped together under the same felony offense, making it impossible to isolate statistics for specific quantities.
Over the past three years, Illinois lawmakers have unsuccessfully proposed downgrading possession of small amounts of drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor, seeking to follow the example established by Oregon, which recently decriminalized possession of small amounts of drugs.
However, while Oregon police officers have written more than 1,300 tickets for drug possession instead of arresting people, achieving the aim of keeping people out of jail, records show few have entered drug treatment through the ticketing system, which the law also was supposed to encourage. In addition, many cops aren’t carrying out their new responsibilities.
Through Sept. 30, 2021 — eight months into the new program — only seven of the more than 1,300 people issued tickets had presented a judge with proof they used the service. Critics also point out that the initiative takes money away from traditional drug courts and sets too low a ceiling for the drug amounts that qualify for a ticket rather than an arrest.
This summary was prepared by TCR Deputy Editor Isidoro Rodriguez