Study finds stark racial disparities for low-level drug offenses in Travis County, Texas

February 21, 2020
The Appeal

A coalition of criminal justice reform groups has found significant racial disparities in arrests and incarceration rates for people in possession of a gram or less of controlled substances in Travis County, Texas. A new report on the findings comes as the county’s largest police department, in Austin, faces accusations of institutional racism and overzealous policing of people for drug use, even in cases where both the City Council and the county prosecutor have said they will not prosecute.

The report, released Tuesday by four Texas-based organizations, shows a sharp uptick in the overall number of drug arrests across the county. “Between 2013 and 2017, the number of low-level Possession of a Controlled Substance (POCS) cases in Travis County increased by 43 percent,” while the county’s courts experienced a 67 percent increase in new felony drug possession cases, the report states. Travis County stands out from the rest of the state, with an increase in drug possession cases that was 2.5 times higher than other Texas courts.