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PUBLICATIONS

Texas

In recent years, Texas has strengthened alternatives to incarceration for adults and juveniles, achieving significant reductions in crime while avoiding more than $2 billion in taxpayer costs that would have been incurred had Texas simply constructed more than 17,000 prison beds that a 2007 projection indicated would be needed. Similarly, juvenile crime has markedly declined at the same time Texas has reduced the number of youths in state institutions by 52.9 percent.

In 2003, the state legislature required that all drug possession offenders with less than a gram of drugs be sentenced to probation instead of state jail time.i In 2005, probation departments began receiving additional funds with the goal of implementing evidence-based supervision practices and treatment programs to reduce unnecessary revocations to prison both by preventing new offenses and reducing technical revocations. In 2007, lawmakers were faced with a Legislative Budget Board projection that 17,332 new prison beds would be needed by 2012.ii These beds would have cost $1.13 billion to build based on a $65,000 per bed construction cost and another $1.50 billion to operate over five years based on the $47.50 per day operating cost in 2008.iii The budget adopted in 2007 represented a historic shift, as, in lieu of building more prisons, policymakers allocated $241 million for residential and non-residential treatment-oriented programs for non-violent offenders, along with enhancing in-prison treatment programs.iv In 2009, the Legislature continued funding for this justice reinvestment initiative, and added new components such as 64 reentry coordinators with the goal of reducing the number of released inmates who return to prison.v

Serious property, violent, and sex crimes per 100,000 Texas residents have declined 12.8 percent since 2003.vi Such crimes per 100,000 residents fell 7.3 percent from 2005 to 2008.vii From 2007 to 2008, there was a 5 percent drop in murders, a 4.3 percent drop in robberies, and a 6.8 percent decline in forcible rapes.viii The number of parolees convicted of a new crime declined 7.6 percent from 2007 to 2008, despite an increase in the number of parolees.ix The 2008 per capita crime rate in Dallas was at its lowest level in 40 years, declining 10 percent from 2007.x It dropped another 10.7 percent through August 31, 2009.xi

Drug courts in Texas have been particularly successful:

Texas

Among all states, Texas and Massachusetts had the sharpest drop in their incarceration rates from 2007 to 2008. Texas’ incarceration rate fell 4.5 percent while the average state incarceration rate increased 0.8 percent.xii Texas with its 154,361 inmates has slipped from the state with the third highest incarceration rate in 2007 behind only Louisiana and Mississippi to the fourth highest rate in 2008, falling slightly behind Oklahoma.xiii Moreover, progress has continued in 2009 as Texas’ prison population dropped by another 1,563 inmates from December 31, 2008 to November 30, 2009.xiv Compared with 2008, in 2009 direct sentenced commitments to Texas prisons fell 6.0 percent and parole revocations fell 3.6 percent.xv This drop in parole revocations follows a 27.4 percent decline from 2007 to 2008.xvi

Texas has also been a national leader in juvenile justice reform.  In 2007, Senate Bill 103 precluded misdemeanants from being sent to Texas Youth Commission (TYC) institutions and the adopted budget provided counties with an additional $57.8 million to handle these youths, about half the cost that would have been incurred had they been sent to TYC.xvii In 2009, lawmakers reduced the TYC budget by $115 million, primarily by ordering the closure of two remotely located TYC lockups. With part of the savings, policymakers invested $45.7 million in juvenile probation, providing diversion funding to juvenile probation departments whose judicial oversight boards agree to a reduced target for commitments to TYC. These funds must be used for programs that are proven to reduce re-offending. Most programs are non-residential and focus on treatment, community service, and strengthening the family.

The TYC population declined 6.8 percent from 2008 to 2009, contributing to a total 52.9 percent drop since 2006.xviii After Senate Bill 103 became effective in June 2007 diverting misdemeanants from TYC, juvenile adjudications declined 10.3 percent from fiscal year 2008 to 2009.xix Similarly, filings to revoke probation for a new offense or rule violation dropped 6.3 percent from 2008 to 2009.xx The most recent data on statewide referrals to juvenile probation shows a 4.3 percent drop from 2007 to 2008.xxi In Bexar County (San Antonio), juvenile referrals declined 5.8 percent from 2007 to 2008 and then another 10.0 percent in 2009.xxii In Dallas County, the juvenile felony referral rate has declined 7.8 percent from 2005 to 2008.xxiii Also in Dallas County, offenses filed in court fell 16.5 percent from 2007 to 2008 and have been projected to decline another 20.0 percent in 2009 based on data for the first three quarters of the year.xxiv

While Texas still has the nation’s fourth highest adult incarceration rate, an increased emphasis on policies that are both tough and smart has enabled the state to turn the tide and reduce crime while controlling costs to taxpayers. Given the strain on the state’s budget, policymakers will likely face a new challenge of not merely avoiding the massive costs of new lockups, but actually trimming the corrections budget while continuing to enhance public safety. Fortunately, solutions are available, such as realigning corrections spending to strengthen cost-effective community corrections programs that prevent re-offending, fostering the use of evidence-based supervision practices in all probation departments, and enacting targeted sentencing reforms. Policymakers must also evaluate the effectiveness of programs to rehabilitate inmates before they are released, ensuring those that keep inmates from reentering prisons are not eliminated. By continuing to build upon the initiatives that are successfully reducing both crime and incarceration rates, Texas can achieve further crime reductions and lower its corrections budget through the closure of unneeded adult and juvenile correctional facilities.

Don’t Mess with Texas on Civil Asset Forfeiture

Katie Greer | November 3, 2017
If you haven’t heard the slogan, “Don’t mess with Texas,” you either live under a rock, or you’ve never met a Texan. While engaging in a conversation on civil…

Where is a prosecutor’s time best spent?

Julie Warren | September 27, 2017
I recently came across an opinion piece in the Midland Times authored by Laura Nodolf, the District Attorney for Midland, Texas, wherein she presented the question: “Where is a…

White House Hosts Round-Table Meeting on Federal Prison Reform

Katie Greer | September 15, 2017
Texas’ big success with criminal justice reform was a focal point in Thursday’s White House round-table discussion on how to improve the federal prison system. President Trump’s Senior Advisor,…

Texas’ Bail System is Costing us all a Fortune

Greg Glod | September 15, 2017
This article by Greg Glod originally appeared in The Monitor, September 15th, 2017. If you ask anyone, regardless of their political views, who they would rather have behind bars…

“Ban the Box” Policies Hurt Where They’re Supposed to Help

Michael Haugen | August 25, 2017
It’s taken some time, but realization is starting to dawn that certain re-entry policies championed by reform advocates on the Left—principally “Ban the Box,” one component of more comprehensive…

Texan Spurs Oklahoma Governor to Reform Justice System

Andrew Speno | August 7, 2017
Right On Crime (ROC) takes center stage in this NewsOK article from Capitol reporter Dale Denwalt. In the article, ROC Signatory Jerry Madden explains why he is getting involved…

Ten Years of Criminal Justice Reform in Texas

Michael Haugen | August 1, 2017
This essay originally appeared in the July edition of Veritas, a quarterly publication of the Texas Public Policy Foundation. If one were to search for an example to prove correct the old…

Failed Grand Jury Reform Proposals Must See Another Day

Greg Glod | July 13, 2017
This article by Greg Glod  originally appeared in Houston Chronicle on July 12, 2017. Many bills did not make it across the finish line in the regular legislative session, but two…

Criminal Justice Reform Summit | Austin, TX

Katie Greer | June 14, 2017
Think tank leaders and reform advocates from all over the country traveled to Austin on June 7 to gain insight on major issues affecting the criminal justice movement at…

A Better Bail System for Texas

Michael Haugen | May 22, 2017
This article originally appeared in the El Paso Times on May 19, 2017. We all know that, in America, a defendant is considered innocent until proven guilty, and it can be…

Bail Reform: Smart Choice for Taxpayers and Public Safety

Marc Levin | May 22, 2017
This article originally appeared in TribTalk on May 19, 2017. On any given day, there are more than 400,000 Americans sitting in jails around the country who haven’t been convicted…

Is It Time to Scale Back on SWAT Teams?

Randy Petersen | May 19, 2017
This article originally appeared in The Hill on May 18, 2017. It began with an Austin Police helicopter circling the skies over his normally quiet neighborhood and ended with tear…
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