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Texans Support the FIRST STEP Act

| June 7, 2018

June 7, 2018

Dear Senators Cornyn and Cruz:

As Texans, we are getting pretty accustomed to our state leading the nation, whether it is in creating jobs, achieving energy independence, or in improving our criminal justice system to deliver more public safety at a lower cost to taxpayers. Now, Washington D.C. has another opportunity to learn from the Texas experience by passing the FIRST STEP Act, which would bring some of the reforms that have cut crime and costs in Texas to the federal prison system. We hope you will join us in supporting this important legislation that received 360 votes in the House, including the entire Texas GOP delegation and all but two of the entire Republican Caucus.

The FIRST STEP Act is supported by numerous stakeholders in business, the faith-based communities, and the conservative movement. And in his State of the Union Speech, and again at a White House Summit on May 18th, President Trump called for federal prison reform, and it is now within our grasp. Our friend, former Governor and now Energy Secretary Rick Perry explained it best in 2015:

“During my leadership as governor, Texas shut down three prisons, and we saved taxpayers $2 billion. When I left office, Texas had the lowest crime rate in our state since 1968. My administration started treatment programs and drug courts for people who wouldn’t be served well by sitting behind bars. We made sure our parole and probation programs were strong. Most of all, we evaluated prisons based on whether they got results. Did an ex-offender get locked up again? Did he get a job? Is he paying restitution to his victims? In Texas, we believe in results.”

We have seen the benefits of this approach in the Lone Star State, which continued to accrue since Governor Perry left office. In 2007, Texas was at a crossroads as it faced building more than 17,000 new prison beds that were projected to be needed. Instead, policymakers adopted reforms that expanded drug courts and mental health treatment. It cleared backlogs for treatment programs behind bars that had waiting lists of many months. Such programs are often a condition of release even after approval by the Parole Board. This enabled more people in prison to be good candidates for parole, leading to higher parole rates and thousands fewer new crimes by parolees. Meanwhile, the parole system implemented graduated sanctions and incentives, and restored the chaplain program so parolees could connect with churches and other religious congregations, rather than gangs.

In 2011 Texas doubled down on reforms by enacting a policy allowing those in state jails to earn time by completing programs, such as educational, vocational and treatment interventions, that are correlated with reduced recidivism. Since then, thousands of individuals confined in state jails have earned up to 20 percent off their sentences as a result of being incentivized in this way.

The results speak for themselves. Texas has closed 8 prisons and achieved a reduction of more than 20% in its incarceration rate. Most importantly, over the last decade, Texas has seen its crime rate fall by more than 30%, reaching its lowest level since 1967.

Turning to the federal prison system, the FIRST STEP Act would help ensure those leaving federal prison are less of a danger than when they arrived. While there is an element of luck in our daily lives, those of us who do not live in prison generally experience a connection between the efforts we expend and the results we experience. By allowing many of those in prison to earn time by completing programs proven to reduce recidivism, and expanding the availability of such programs, the FIRST STEP Act would enable the federal prison system to gain from what Texas has learned.

Of course, the FIRST STEP Act recognizes that not everyone behind bars should be eligible for a reduction. Had Osama bin Laden not met justice courtesy of America’s finest and ultimately been placed in federal prison, he certainly should not have received any such opportunity. So the FIRST STEP Act appropriately excludes the most serious offenses such as terrorism from earning credits through
completing programming. Here in Texas, since we began our reforms in 2007, we have seen the prison population go from 60% nonviolent offenders to 60% violent offenders, so we know a thing or two about making sure we lock up those we are afraid of.

The FIRST STEP Act includes many other important reforms, such as ensuring pregnant women in federal prisons are not shackled during childbirth, and that prisoners are – whenever practical and safe – kept within 500 miles of their families, thereby promoting visitation and successful reentry. The FIRST STEP Act does not solve every problem in the federal prison system, but it is a worthy start.
We all recognize some offenders commit such evil acts and are so dangerous that they must never be free to live among us, but many more offenders can find redemption and become productive, law-abiding citizens with the right intervention. We know that some 40,000 people will be released this year from federal prison to live near our families. Many of them will not have completed programs that could
have reduced the risk they pose to society and improved their chances of holding jobs.

We encourage you to support the FIRST STEP Act so that the federal prison system can follow Texas in recognizing that public safety demands that we not simply warehouse, but actually rehabilitate the thousands of prisoners that will be reentering our society.
Thank you for your consideration. Should you have any questions, please contact Derek Cohen of the Texas Public Policy Foundation at dcohen@texaspolicy.com.

Sincerely,

Kevin Roberts
Texas Public Policy Foundation

Doug Deason
The Deason Foundation

Jerome Greener
Americans for Prosperity-Texas

Jason Isaac
Texas Conservative Coalition Research Institute

Oliver Bell
Former Chairman, Texas Department of Criminal Justice

Caroline Chadwick
Young Conservatives of Texas

Senator Donna Campbell
Texas State Senate

Craig DeRoche
Prison Fellowship

Representative James Frank
Texas House of Representatives

Senator Bob Hall
Texas State Senate

Stacy Hock
Joel and Stacy Hock Foundation

Terry Holcomb
State Republican Executive Committee

Senator Don Huffines
Texas State Senate

Senator Bryan Hughes
Member, Texas Senate Criminal Justice Committee

Justin Keener
Texans for Free Enterprise

Representative Matt Krause
Texas House of Representatives
Former Member, Texas House Corrections Committee

Representative Jeff Leach
Texas House of Representatives
Former Member, Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee

Robin & Jim Lennon
Kingwood TEA Party

Former Representative Jerry Madden
Former Chairman, Texas House Corrections Committee
Member, 2018 Republican Party of Texas Platform Committee

Jeff Moseley
Texas Association of Business

Representative Jim Murphy
Texas House of Representatives
Former Chairman, Texas House Corrections Committee

Karen Newton
Texas Federation of Republican Women

Naomi Narvaiz
State Republican Executive Committee

Josiah Neeley
R Street Institute

Tanya Robertson
State Republican Executive Committee

Tom Roller
State Republican Executive Committee

Senator Van Taylor
Texas State Senate, and Republican nominee for CD3

Kari Volgtsberger
State Republican Executive Committee

Representative James White
Chairman, Texas House Corrections Committee

Representative Paul Workman
Texas House of Representatives

Representative John Wray
Texas House of Representatives
Member, Homeland Security & Public Safety Committee

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RIGHT ON CRIME is a national campaign to promote successful, conservative solutions on American criminal justice policy—reforming the system to ensure public safety, shrink government, and save taxpayers money. By sharing research and policy ideas and mobilizing strong conservative voices, we work to raise awareness of the growing support for effective reforms within the conservative movement. We are transforming the debate on criminal justice in America.

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