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Interview with former 339th Criminal District Court judge, Judge Caprice Cosper

Editor’s Note: During her 15 years of presiding over the 339th Criminal District Court in Houston, Judge Caprice Cosper was a strong advocate of community supervision programs in Texas. She served on the Judicial Advisory Council to TDCJ’s Community Assistance Division for five years and also presided over one of four drug courts for probationers in Harris County. To get a judicial perspective on the state of the community supervision system in Texas, Connections sat down with the University of Houston Law School graduate and former Harris County assistant district attorney before she left the bench in January.

Judge Caprice Cosper at her desk
Judge Caprice Cosper has presided over the 339th District Criminal Court in Houston for 15 years and serves on the Judicial Advisory Council to TDCJ's Criminal Justice Assistance Division.

Photo by David Nunnelee

Q. Are you excited about the Legislature’s investment in community supervision programs in recent years?

A. I’m excited that the Legislature has recognized that we have some big problems in the criminal justice arena and that they realize that they’ve got to fund those adequately if we’re going to make a difference. The big challenge is helping the Legislature to understand that we’re turning a battleship, and you can’t turn a battleship that fast. They’ve got to give us time to show the impact the money is making at this level.

Q. Are we already seeing an impact?

A. Yeah, we’re seeing one. But I’m one of those who believes that you can have a great idea, but if people aren’t ready for it and if the time isn’t right, it’s not going to happen. In many respects, you have to have your public policy, your public opinion, and your resources come together. The moon and the stars have to be aligned. And that’s sort of what’s happening now with community supervision.

Q. Is that an indication that community supervision is coming of age in Texas?

A. Unfortunately, you’re talking to someone who’s been in the criminal justice system long enough to see that trends come and trends go. I think there are a number of factors that are contributing to why we’re looking at community supervision again. The number one thing that is driving the train, at least in Harris County, and I suspect the state, is drug use and drug offenders. I really see that as changing the whole landscape of criminal justice in the last 15 years. All of our statistics here show that that’s a significant part of our everyday docket and that it’s a significant contributor to crime. And I think maybe the public caught on even before the rest of us did that just locking someone up who has a substance abuse issue isn’t going to solve that problem.

Q. As a judge, did you do everything you could to keep someone from going to the penitentiary? Was that a last resort for you?

A. Yes, there’s sort of a rule of thumb that a judge can always send someone to the penitentiary. But it’s not quite that simple… the dynamics are not that simple. Essentially, there are people I gave opportunities to that didn’t appreciate it and didn’t work hard at it. And I told every one of my probationers: “You work hard at this and I’ll work with you. But if you walk away from this, then you don’t leave me with many options.” There are people that I wasn’t going to pour a lot of resources into if they weren’t going to do their part.

Q. How would you advise state leaders today as they look to strengthen the criminal justice system in the future?

A. Well, we’re not going to stop people from getting in the criminal justice system. We can start with that premise. I’ve been here 15 years and the influx of people into the criminal justice system isn’t going down. Then the question becomes, what do we do with them? And there are basically only two options. One is we can lock them up and the other is we place them on community supervision. It makes no sense to me to put someone on community supervision if we’re not going to have the tools that we need to ensure success.


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