In 2011, a 25-year-old Dallas man was arrested for stealing two packages of diapers. According to the Dallas Morning News, Jorge Carbajal pleaded with officers to let him go, saying “I was only doing it for my kids.”
Now, after a decision by new Dallas County district attorney John Creuzot, arrests of people like Carbajal will be a thing of the past. The DA’s office is no longer going to prosecute petty theft of so-called “essential items,” like groceries and diapers, of less than $750 in value, assuming the person stealing them wasn’t doing so for economic gain, like selling the items on the street.
“The question is, if we put them in jail, are they going to pay restitution? You know what the answer is: No,” Creuzot told local news outlet KERA. “So we’ve burned up taxpayer money for a hungry person or a needy person under this fake premise that we’re going to get the money back. And it doesn’t happen.”
The county’s new district attorney laid out a series of reforms he was pursuing in the first 90 days on the job in an open letter recently posted to the Dallas County website.
“Study after study shows that when we arrest, jail, and convict people for non-violent crimes committed out of necessity, we only prevent that person from gaining the stability necessary to lead a law-abiding life,” Creuzot wrote. “Criminalizing poverty is counter-productive for our community’s health and safety.”
Creuzot, a Democrat, easily won election to the DA post in November of 2018, defeating Republican incumbent Faith Johnson in a campaign focused on curbing mass incarceration. Creuzot won 423,770 votes to Johnson’s 280,941 votes, securing victory by a margin of more than 20%.
As part of his campaign promise to reduce mass incarceration, Creuzot is also declining to prosecute first-time offenders for misdemeanor marijuana possession, provided the arrest didn’t take place in a drug-free zone, and the offender didn’t exhibit a weapon or show evidence of delivery.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.