Instead of spending millions of dollars for a new jail, San Marcos government should allocate funds toward criminal rehabilitation.
Hays County residents have lost about $1 million of taxpayer money by transferring inmates from the region’s overcrowded jail to surrounding detention facilities. In an attempt to alleviate spending, Hays County commissioners unanimously voted April 21 to finance a new jail.
The current jail will be transformed into a new law enforcement center and a detention facility will be built next door. Although the Hays County jail is outdated and in need of repairs, the large increase of inmates may be indicative of a deeper issue.
San Marcos is the fastest-growing city in the country, and with growth comes an increase in crime. Now is the perfect time for San Marcos residents to decide to not roll over and accept a crime-infested city, but instead decide to combat it. More cell availability may alleviate the problem now, but will only treat a symptom of the greater issue.
One of the major contributors to the overabundance of prisoners throughout America is the harsh treatment of certain nonviolent crimes. Harris County has recently implemented lenient policies for marijuana users in order to decrease flow to its court systems. First-time offenders must complete eight hours of community service to avoid charges. In the first six months, Harris County experienced a 20 percent decrease in marijuana cases filed.
Possession of marijuana can send users to jail with hefty fines in San Marcos. Less than two ounces may result in six months in jail and a $2,000 fine. Regardless of any personal feelings about the morality of marijuana, legalization would significantly decrease the number inmates.
“I don’t think the laws in place are a deterrent,” said Billy Dawson, former jailer and patrol officer. “I think rehab and counseling should be available for anyone that wants it. If it is illegal, first drug offense should be a slap on the wrist, the second offense should be graduated and the third offense should be graduated further.”
According to March statistics from the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the most popular offense leading to imprisonment is drugs, comprising 46.4 percent of charges. The other top two offenses include weapons/explosives/arson and immigration, which account for 16.9 percent and 9.2 percent respectively.
Two of these categories are completely nonaggressive. Legalizing marijuana and sending drug users to rehab instead of a cell would decrease jail populations by nearly half.
Look to other countries as a guide. The Netherlands is facing a problem so drastically different it is nearly astonishing. Crime has continuously fallen to the extent where dozens of prisons have forcibly closed. There were eight closings in 2009, 19 in 2014 and five more throughout the next few years.
When it comes to dealing with criminals, the Netherlands seems to have found the perfect strategy. Judges are granting shorter sentences, which leads to less time in jail. The short amount of time behind bars is focused on rehabilitation, not punishment.
One trillion dollars has been spent since 1971 on the increasingly unrealistic and obnoxious “war on drugs.” Despite good intentions, this battle has done nothing but harm.
A study for the Cato Institute estimated federal legalization of marijuana would result in $8.7 billion savings annual on expenses related to implementing prohibition. A 25 percent tax on marijuana in Colorado brought in $70 million for the state government in its most recent fiscal cycle.
Imagine if Texas, a state approximately five times bigger than Colorado, legalized marijuana then allocated a significant amount of new incoming tax funds to fighting crime and funding schools.
Perhaps Governor Greg Abbott can get over his idiotic and regressive hate for marijuana, even for medicinal purposes, and realize he has the power to bring in enough funds for San Marcos to build a new jail and properly combat violent crimes. Abbott should take a short trip down I-35 and see how our fast-growing city really needs his help.