It’s a new law that went into effect Saturday that contains several provisions for not going to jail, but it’s the provision applying to possession of marijuana less than four ounces that’s drawing a lot of attention.

House Bill 2391, signed by Gov. Rick Perry in mid-June, allows law enforcement officers the discretion of whether or not they take one of their local residents to jail if they’re found violating a Class A or Class B misdemeanor law.

Two of the three law enforcement agencies here — Corsicana Police Department and Texas Highway Patrol — aren’t changing the way they’re going to handle those cases. If you have possession of marijuana, you’re going to jail.

The third agency, the Navarro County Sheriff’s Office, is going to let its officers use their discretion in the matter. And the NCSO’s reasoning may well lay squarely along side the reason for the House bill that was passed by the Legislature.

A burgeoning county jail population, across the state as well as here, makes it a consideration on whether or not to immediately incarcerate less severe offenders.

Sheriff Les Cotten noted his jail population has been running well above the 200-inmate mark for some time. That’s in a jail facility that has a capacity of 297 only if all the inmate classification requirements are right and if the male/female balance works out correctly.

“I’m going to leave (jailing of Class A or B misdemeanor offenders) up to the discretion of my officers,” Cotten said Friday. “And it might well depend on the attitude of the person in possession too. Somebody’s got an attitude problem, my officers could go ahead and put them in jail.”

Last Wednesday’s drug interdiction operation that targeted 86 adults and five juveniles was hailed by many locals as good police work on a problem area. But Cotten saw the full effects of combating crime.

The influx of new inmates put his jail above capacity. He shipped out 20 inmates on Thursday, then 20 more on Friday, to Limestone County’s jail.

That’s at a cost of $44 per day, per inmate — for the length of time they stay. Should all 40 of the moved inmates (not necessarily all from the drug arrests Wednesday) stay for 30 days in Limestone County, the county would see a cost of $52,800 for their stay there.

“We’re trying to get the (jail) population down, it’s a (state regulations) issue,” Cotten said. “And we might have a need over the weekend for space for new offenders.”

That leads to the reason for leaving the decision on future Class A and Class B misdemeanor offenders up to his officers. Those offenders will still get a citation and will still get a date and time to appear before a judge, they just won’t immediately go to jail.

Corsicana assistant police Chief Ladena Baggett and Texas Highway Patrol Sgt. Kenneth Authier are going a different way, however. Both said their agencies aren’t changing the way they handle those cases.

“We are not going to change our procedures,” Baggett said in a telephone conversation with the Daily Sun Friday. “We’re still going to continue as we have been doing. We’re just going to stay as we are now.”

Authier’s comments were along the same lines.

“Right now, there’s no change at all,” Authier said, noting that such policy changes for the highway patrol come from Austin and no such change has made its way down from higher ups. “We’ll just treat it the same as always — take them to jail.”

The misdemeanors that fall under the new law include: Driving While License Invalid, Contraband in a Correctional Facility (only for Class B offenses), Graffiti (only Class B), possession of marijuana (Class A and Class B offenses), theft (only Class B), or Theft of Service (only Class B).

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Loyd Cook may be contacted via e-mail at lcook@corsicanadailysun.com.

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