When he was Mayor of Tyler, my hometown, Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, developed a reputation as a small-government tax-cutter. But he told the Paris News last month he preferred spending billions more to build new prisons instead of probation reforms backed by the Governor and legislative leadership.
“I would really want to see any details of any change in probation before I would commit,” Eltife said. “I am more concerned in making sure we keep criminals off the street.”Maybe Bas could take him on a tour of a Texas prison so Eltife can see the failed strategies we're financing. It's hard to believe anyone fancying themselves a small-government conservative could really want more of the same.
Eltife leaned more toward imprisonment.
“If it looks like we need additional prison space, we need to build the jails,” Eltife said.
An East Texas judge quoted in the same article was much more positive about the proposed changes:
Sixth District Judge Jim Lovett said he welcomes stronger probation programs.That view is more typical of folks who work with the probation system closely -- it can work to reduce crime if it's properly structured and funded.
“I have predicted for several years that the legislature would appropriate more money and place more responsibilities on local probation offices,” he said. “It is the only sensible solution when compared to the outrageous cost of more prison beds.”
Estimates indicate that it costs more than $40 a day to house a prisoner and about $2 a day for probation programs.
The ultimate goal of probation is to reduce criminal recidivism, Lovett said of repeat offenders.
“Locally we have been preparing several years for this time and are confident that the studies that are now in the planning stages will prove the programs adopted by the 6th District Community Supervisions and Corrections Department are reducing recidivism at a higher rate than elsewhere,” Lovett said.
Lovett spoke of several experimental programs introduced during his eight years in office, including horticultural therapy, a stepped up community service program, a sex offender therapy program, a drug and alcohol program and a recently added Paris Junior College educational program.
“These programs all are at no cost to the local taxpayer,” Lovett emphasized, adding that work probationers do in the community saves hundreds of thousands of dollars yearly.