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Criminal justice experts weigh in on potential GOP party platform planks

The Texas Republican Party is considering a number of potential platform planks involving criminal justice reform. Just Liberty’s Scott Henson spoke with Right on Crime Director Derek Cohen, and several other area experts, about why these reforms are needed and how the state arrived where it is today.

Texas’ use of cash bail has been under a microscope ever since lawsuits were filed against Harris County last year. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals recently declared the county’s practice of locking up indigent defendants unconstitutional. Henson asked what conservative values could better inform Texas’ bail decisions. “Simply put, public safety, pure and simple,” Cohen said. By basing release on the amount of cash someone has on hand, legitimate threats are allowed back out on the streets. A pretrial risk assessment would help prevent that by ensuring dangerous defendants are locked up, regardless of if they can post bail, while low level, nonviolent offenders are supervised in the community at.

You have people who are great candidates for recognizance bonds,” Cohen said, “Basically they’re tied to the community, they’re tied to church groups… Why are we housing them at $60 a day in our jails?

Looking at 2016 records state Rep. Jason Isaac commented that pretrial detainees, which make up 70 percent of county jail populations, cost Texas taxpayers over 900 million dollars. Unfortunately that investment is not moving the ball in regards to public safety. Research on rural jail populations argues that for all but the highest-risk defendants pretrial incarceration actually increases the odds of re-arrest. If the lock em’ up and throw away the key approach was effective “we should have been able to build our way out of the crime spike,” Cohen said. That’s why Texas began reforming its criminal justice system in 2005 and has only continued to do so ever since.

Cohen credits Governor Rick Perry for his part in leading reforms to passage. While previous governors had attempted to capitalize on Texas’ top jailer reputation as a way to promote jobs in rural areas, it was Governor Perry who realized more lives could be changed if the government got out of the way.

By implementing alternatives to incarceration and through rehabilitation programs, Texas has worked to reduce its crime rate by more than 30 percent.

 “When somebody offends,” said Cohen, “That does not forfeit that person’s human dignity… We need to make sure they’re rehabilitated, not only for the public safety component, but for the human dignity component as well.”

You can listen to the entire podcast here.

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