Meanwhile, Texas' only legislator-blogger, Rep. Aaron Pena (hey, if anybody out there knows how to get a damned tilde on Blogger, even html code or something, please let me know; apologies, Rep.), posted an item Thursday, 2-24, invoking MLK to describe what he deems (perhaps prematurely) to be historic reforms in Texas' criminal justice system. Regrettably, you can't permalink to the posts on Rep. Pena's blog, but here's the meat of his comments.
Martin Luther King once said, "Darkness can not drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."Well said. Pena and his colleagues deserve to feel good about this decision. To make it work, though, they'll have to fund drug courts and drug treatment at significant levels not just this session, but many sessions to come. (Just two years ago they slashed those programs.) And once and for all they have to stop boosting criminal penalties while pretending there's no significant cost.
Today neither hate nor darkness ruled the day. My great State of Texas, with the help of a number of strong leaders took a historic turn. We in the state have been building prison after prison, locking away scores of opportunities lost to help our fellow man. For years we failed to see that a significant portion of our jail population was made up of drug addicts and pople with mental illness. The problem with locking them up is the high cost of jails, but more importantly, without treating the addiction, most of these people remain addicts and eventually return to an overcrowded prison system.
Voted out of the Appropriations Committee today was a revolutionary idea that may help break the cycle. Coming out of the Criminal Justice sub-committee was the recommendation that state money be diveted to treatment of offenders with drug addictions. The state at this time will not build the five new jails [ed. note: prison units] expected if the state continued to ignore the root of the problem. Rather, we will divert physically and mentally incapacitated prisoners to less restrictive environments where perhaps federal dollars can be leveraged for their care.
Hopefully we can start driving down the numbers. ... It felt good to tell a number of community leaders working with children and addictions about the sweeping changes that had just taken place.
If legislators decide, in their wisdom, that a certain crime is such a problem that it deserves keeping more people in prison longer, they should be required simultaneously to exercise that wisdom to identify which prisoners will be released in order to incarcerate additional people. House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Chairman Terry Keel said the other night that he thought some version of legislation increasing penalties for car burglaries to a felony would pass. That would require building at least one of the five prison units Rep. Pena is talking about. That's why, while the bills are still in committee, the bill sponsors should be required to identify in the same bill which sentences they suggest reducing, in tandem, so as not to worsen the overincarceration crisis.
That requirement alone -- or honest fiscal notes, given how many members of the Lege also ran on "no new taxes" -- would resolve most of this tough-on-crime nonsense.