This year, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Right on Crime celebrate ten years of criminal justice reform efforts in Texas. In 2007, facing the prospect of having to build an additional 17,000 prison beds during a tight budget year to handle expected population growth, the Texas Legislature instead made smaller investments into alternatives that could divert many low-risk, non-violent offenders into substance abuse treatment programs or community supervision. In this way, finite prison space could be prioritized for more violent or repeat offenders—those “we’re afraid of, not those we’re mad at.”
Additionally, expanded drug courts and use of graduated sanctions for parole violations helped get at the root causes of criminality, and breathed flexibility into a parole system that previously would have simply sent offenders back to prison for breaking terms of parole.
The results of this first round of reforms are well-known. Parole revocations fell by a quarter between 2006 and 2008, which contributed to $444 million worth of savings between 2008 and 2009. Long term savings or deferrals total roughly $3 billion, as Texas has not only averted having to build greater prison capacity, but has instead shuttered four adult facilities as incarceration has fallen—with more closures being deliberated. All of these reforms were instituted concurrent to a steady reduction in crime rates, which is made even more significant by the remarkable general population growth Texas has seen for years. Texas’ experience is clear: criminal justice reform can reduce prison populations, while enhancing public safety.
Now, as Texas heads into its sixth iteration of criminal justice reform since 2007, we’ve produced a brief retrospective to recall how such efforts all got started, which can be viewed below. Also, be sure to tune into our live-streamed panel discussion with Texas Sen. John Whitmire, former House Corrections chair Jerry Madden, and Right on Crime policy director Marc Levin today at 3 PM Central, as they discuss the legislative challenges faced in 2007, and what criminal justice reform looks like today.