Thousands ‘unnecessarily’ nabbed for minor offenses in Texas, report reveals

According to a recent report, thousands of Texans were jailed in 2019 for violations that might have been resolved with a citation.

Report Revealed

The report examined arrests made that year in eight Texas counties, including five in North Texas. It was published in December by the charity Texas Appleseed. More than 15,000 individuals were detained for allegedly minor violations around the state, according to researchers.

According to Jennifer Carreon, director of Texas Appleseed’s Criminal Justice Project, “when we say unnecessarily, it means that technically by law, they could have been issued a citation and a summons to appear in court to deal with their charge at a later date, rather than placing them physically in a carceral institution for detention.”

The majority of arrests were made for Class C misdemeanors, which include low-level larceny, marijuana possession, and driving with a suspended license, as well as additional charges like public drunkenness or disorderly conduct. People who are arrested on warrants and several offenses at a higher level in addition to the Class C offense are not included in the data.

According to state law, only a small number of Class C misdemeanors carry a prison sentence; nonetheless, officers are given wide latitude in making arrests and are not required to provide a reason for their decision.

With a few exceptions, the study urges an end to warrantless arrests for Class C misdemeanors as well as the development and adoption of a statewide cite-and-release policy that may be used by all jurisdictions.

Significant Regional Variations

The report discovered significant regional variations. Just 4% of all arrests in Austin, which had cite-and-release laws in place in 2019, might have resulted in a ticket, according the statistics.

The analysis discovered that more than 20% of the arrests in Dallas and Fort Worth could have been resolved with a citation. Dallas and Tarrant counties now have formal cite-and-release policies in place despite not having any at the time; this suggests that such changes may be effective in keeping individuals out of jail.

According to a Dallas Police Agency representative, the department was unable to respond because it had sufficient details regarding the conclusions of the report. Requests for comment from the Fort Worth Police Department were not immediately fulfilled.

In addition, the research discovered racial discrepancies in marijuana possession and driving while ineligible for a license charges. Black folks made up approximately 39% of citation-eligible arrests despite making up just around 21% of the population in the eight jurisdictions.

According to Carreon, the large frequency of citation-eligible arrests has a significant negative impact on communities, increases the risk that someone will be detained again, and wastes resources used by law enforcement to book and arraign the detained individuals.

Measure To Limit Arrests

A bill that would have allowed courts to throw out low-level offenses if police officers failed to explain why they had detained someone for an offense that carries merely a fee, like a traffic ticket, was defeated by a committee of Texas lawmakers from both houses in 2019.

After Senate Measure 815, a rather uncontentious bill pertaining to the retention of criminal records, was passed, state Representative Joe Moody, D-El Paso, inserted a more constrained version of the provision as an amendment. 

With Moody’s amendment regarding arrests for Class C misdemeanors, the House voted 81 to 52 to pass the legislation. 

However, the Senate rejected the proposal, and it was later removed from the measure in a compromise report put out by a cross-section of politicians from both houses.

Moody and other proponents of criminal justice reform have said that after the amendment’s ratification, police unions have propagated false information about it. 

According to Moody, the measure did not truly restrict a police officer’s power to make an arrest. He added the officer could still arrest the person if there was a safety risk, such as in a voyeurism instance; they would just have to explain their decision.