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State Lawmakers Consider Softening Drug Penalties

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AUSTIN (KRLD-AM) - With one of the highest incarceration rates in the nation, Texas state lawmakers are studying alternative penalties for non-violent drug offenders.

House members heard testimony Tuesday, that despite crime rates going down, drug possession convictions are on the rise.

State Representative Matt Krause is a member of the House Corrections Committee.

In the hearing at the State Capitol, he tried to clarify the debate by questioning whether it's better to figure out some other way to rehabilitate them without putting them in jail and giving them that felony label.

According to state officials who testified, Texas spends more than $67 million per year incarcerating non-violent drug offenders.

Studies also show 62-percent of them will end up in jail again within 3 years.

State Representative Mark Keough also sits on the committee.

He told them greater penalties make him think twice.

"I don't think that decriminalizing it in my judgement…or looking to possibly make it a lesser offense or whatever is necessarily the answer. I'm not sure what the answer is," saids Rep. Keough.

"The money that we are spending is not producing the types of outcomes that we would hope to see," testified Doug Smith, a policy analyst for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

Smith is pushing for lesser penalties and interventions at the county level.

"We want people to no longer be involved with the criminal justice system. We want people to live happy productive lives. Let's find the solution that actually helps us to achieve that and what we found is putting them in state jails doesn't do that," said Smith.

(©2016 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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