Those options and more were floated at the Senate Criminal Justice Committee yesterday during testimony by Marc Levin of the Texas Pulbic Policy Foundation. (I'll have more to say about the rest of the hearing soon.) The Statesman's Mike Ward has an account today of the committee's discussion and the problems siting halfway houses, writing that ("Halfway house solution: Build them at prisons," April 3):
committee members expressed shock that two-thirds of the new halfway house beds they funded last year — 200 of the 300 beds — will be in El Paso because there were no alternative sites.
Discussion shifted to the possibility of building new halfway houses on the grounds of existing prisons, especially in and around Houston. That area accounts for about a quarter of all prison commitments in Texas.
The state now has halfway houses in Beaumont, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, El Paso and Austin — in a lockup near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and the county-run Correctional Complex in Del Valle. El Paso has two.
Those halfway houses hold 1,400 parole-bound felons.
San Antonio is the largest Texas city without one. ...
In the past 20 years, halfway houses have been a controversial aspect of Texas' prison system, with protests killing every new location aside from one in El Paso that officials said is in a former jail in an industrial area.
Whitmire said there are too few halfway house beds, meaning some convicts must stay in prison for months until a halfway house bed opens up. Then most convicts cannot transition out of prison in their hometown or home county, he said.
Whitmire and other senators advocated a study. Prison officials, while publicly noncommittal, agreed more halfway houses sites are needed. Michelle Lyons, the system's spokeswoman, said the state currently is 255 beds short — down from 500 last year.
"What we are doing now makes no sense," Whitmire told the committee. "Locating them on existing (prison) units makes a lot of sense."
This topic hits a sore point with me. Much has been made of the online sex offender registry where you can find out how many paroled sex offenders live in your neighborhood, but for every sex offender listed there are many, MANY more parolees out there. They're here anyway. Opposing halfway houses and treatment centers just makes it more difficult for them to succeed on the outside and avoid committing new crimes.
The NIMBY types that come out of the woodwork opposing halfway houses must be among the most foolish on the planet. Texas releases tens of thousands of prisoners every year, and the prisons are chock full, with more entering the system all the time. So in the big picture, felons are coming out whether there's a supervised spot for them or they're couch surfing with friends. The idea that people would rather they're freelancing out there on their own instead of in a semi-supervised facility with support services just boggles my mind.
In addition to Whitmire's idea for halfway houses on prison grounds, Marc Levin proposed changes to the Government code to make it easier to make an application, including eliminating the requirement for a newspaper ad of a certain size for three consecutive days, which in Houston he said costs around $15,000.
Levin also suggested pursuing an idea from a bill by Debbie Riddle that I'd honestly not paid attention to last year, which would have required cities that rejected halfway houses to contribute money into a fund that would pay for community placement. I think that's a spectacular idea. It would put a stop to a lot of this NIMBY nonsense.