Studies have shown that the number one factor in reducing the risk of recidivism is obtaining employment. When employment is not easily obtained, ex-offenders often become discouraged and return to crime in an act of desperation. This facilitates the revolving door of the criminal justice system, as many recidivate shortly after their release.
In order to increase the chances of employment following a release from custody, chapter 501 of the Texas Government Code states that upon release to parole, mandatory supervision, or conditional pardon, an inquiry must be made as to whether or not the inmate has a driver’s license and/or a birth certificate. If the inmate does not have one or either of these forms of identification, a request is to be submitted to the Department of Public Safety “as soon as is practical.” The code specifically excludes individuals who are not legally present in the United States, or an individual that was not a resident of the state of Texas prior to their time in custody. This exclusion is meant to exempt the enforcement of this code in impractical situations.
In order to expand this chapter of the criminal code, House Bill 918, brought by Representative James White, asks that the department provide inmates with employment documents if they are work capable, and eligible to participate in work. These documents include a driver’s license and birth certificate and additionally incorporates: a social security card, a resume including any learned trade (and the inmate’s proficiency at that trade), and a practice job interview. One of the common characteristics of a “hard-to-employ” individual is lack of documentation. By providing inmates with documents necessary for legal and gainful employment, as well as soft-skill preparation for future interviews, ex-offenders will be better equipped to find work following their release back into their communities. This increases their chances of obtaining employment, which decreases the risk of reoffending.
House Bill 918 is beneficial to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) because it allows officials to use practical judgement while engaging in this recidivism-reduction process. For example, if a person were serving a short sentence, it might not be feasible to obtain documentation within the allotted time frame. However, this bill provides the department administrators with the discretion to decide when providing inmates with job packets is practical, and then determine how to expend its resources. When TDCJ determines the retrieval of documentation to be impractical, it is not only because it isn’t feasible on their end, but also because they are aware that would not be detrimental to an inmate’s release back into society.
When we allocate resources for smart policy, Texas can experience safer neighborhoods. House Bill 918 is an important reentry policy that will help to enhance public safety by facilitating effective reentry, thereby reducing the likelihood of recidivism.