The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition has released a study on the impact of Harris County’s racially targeted policies, specifically its trace amounts policy and its anti-immigrant policies. From the study, though, one gets a sense that perhaps a bond between the African American and Hispanic communities can work together to effect meaningful criminal justice policies that benefit the entire community.
The study found that Harris County focuses its resources on drug crimes, especially felony drug possession; in fact, it has been the number one felony charge in the county for 20 years. Worse, although blacks and whites have similar drug-use rates, it is African Americans who are targeted most for arrest, prosecution, and conviction.
While blacks make up about 19 percent of Harris County residents, they made up almost 50 percent of those arrested for felony drug possession between October 2011 and September 2012, and they comprise 65.8 percent of those being incarcerated by Harris County in state prisons or jails for felony drug possession.
The County’s policies seem to apply to the Hispanic community, particularly its over-commitment to immigration enforcement. As DosCentavos has found in its own research, and now backed up by this study, the vast majority of those booked and then found to be unauthorized immigrants and reported to ICE have not been convicted of a crime or have been convicted of petty, usually undeportable crimes. Moreover, many of these detentions are more than likely based on racial and ethnic stereotypes, not much different from the African Americans targeted for drug arrests.
The report especially calls out the immigration policies for the stereotype that it creates–that all immigrants are criminals or likely to commit crimes. In fact, foreign-born detainees go to prison at lesser rates than U.S. citizens arrested for crimes.
Ultimately, this is all about safety. The contention that arresting people for trace drug amounts stops property crimes is far-fetched. Likewise, is the contention that somehow keeping working immigrants in deportation limbo in an ICE facility is somehow a crime-fighting tactic. All this does is cause a sense of distrust between the community and the police. Especially within immigrant communities, the effect of this distrust is a lower likelihood that crimes will be reported for fear of law enforcement.
Obviously, the new Republican DA is not helping by re-instituting its trace policy, and our Democratic Sheriff does not help by continuing the Secure Communities and 287g programs. But this opens up and opportunity for communities to work together to demand accountability and better services from a taxing entity, such as Harris County.
Read the entire report here.