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Reducing drug felonies to misdemeanors could reduce disparities

According to researchers, reducing criminal penalties for certain drug crimes, such as drug possession, could have an indirect positive impact on health and racial disparities. A felony conviction could prevent Texas residents from obtaining gainful employment or loans to further their education.

Researchers looked at disparities in arrests between blacks, whites and Latinos before and after California's Proposition 47 passed. When the number of incarcerations began to rise in the 1970s, certain communities were impacted more than others, particularly communities of color. In 2014, Proposition 47 reclassified felony drug crimes as misdemeanors. After one month with the reclassification, disparities between felony drug arrests for blacks and whites were almost cut in half, and they have continued to decline since then.

The study was limited to just arrests. However, researchers are turning their attention to what happens after the arrest. The goal is to determine if there is a change in the types of charges that are filed by prosecutors and whether the likelihood of felony convictions has changed. Similar reforms that are taking place in other states are being tracked to see if the trends are similar.

It is no secret that being convicted of a felony drug crime can have a major impact on a person's future. Depending on the specific charges and whether the person has prior convictions, a felony drug conviction could result in a lengthy prison sentence, fines and supervised release. A criminal law attorney may work with defendants throughout their cases to help ensure that their rights are protected.

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