For the first time since the Texas prison system's substance-abuse treatment programs began nearly 15 years ago, amid controversy over their cost and effectiveness, programs have no waiting list, prison officials said Tuesday.This development will help further reduce prison overcrowding by allowing prisoners to complete requirements more quickly to qualify for parole, the Statesman reported:
In years past, thousands of drug- and alcohol-addicted convicts had to wait for months — in some cases years — for space to open up in the treatment programs, filling prisons with felons who could have been paroled, and confounding a smooth transition of convicts from prisons to programs to parole.
But officials said that because the Legislature voted two years to ago greatly expand the treatment programs, the chronic backlog that had plagued them since their inception, at the behest of then-Gov. Ann Richards, is now gone. At the same time, the prison population has decreased slightly in recent months, part of a national trend.
Bottom line: Investing in drug and alcohol treatment instead of building more prisons was an inspired approach that's clearly working in Texas. I'm sure state Sen. John Whitmire, Rep. Jerry Madden, and other legislators who bet on this strategy are happy and relieved to see things working out the way they predicted - I know I am!
Rissie Owens, chairwoman of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, said the agency in past years had approved thousands of convicts for parole on the condition that they complete a treatment program, only to see them sit in prison for months — even years — because no space was available.
"We can actually vote them into a program now and have them get in," she said. "That's great."
Billed as the biggest shift for Texas corrections policy in years, the 2007 expansion of treatment programs by lawmakers greatly expanded the capacity of in-prison drug- and alcohol-treatment programs, opened transition treatment centers to help convicts succeed once they got out, expanded counseling and specialized drug-treatment programs, and opened lockups designed especially for habitual drunken drivers. The cost was more than $227 million.
In 2007, Gov. Rick Perry proposed building two medium-security prisons, but legislative leaders opted for expanding the treatment programs instead, despite some concern about whether the initiative would work. ...
State Rep. Jerry Madden, a Republican from Richardson who co-authored the 2007 legislation with Whitmire, said that having treatment beds available for convicts will mean that they can complete therapy programs before they are released from prison, giving them a better chance of success upon release. "This is exactly what we had in mind, where we wanted to be someday — even though I'm somewhat surprised we got here so quickly," Madden said. "We know the history of the programs shows they work if they're done right."