Florida is staring at a Texas-sized problem.
Fortunately, Texas might also have the solution.
Two years ago that state faced its own prison crisis: house 17,000 new inmates by 2012 at a cost of half a billion dollars.
But Texas never built any new prisons. Instead, for half that amount, it revamped its criminal justice system, reduced its prison population and became a national model for reform.
Too often Texas' justice system is the source of barbs and giggles, if not outrage and horror, when discussed by others around the country. Our governor scoffs at scientists and daydreams about secession, while our Court of Criminal Appeals notoriously excuses even the grossest official misconduct - like a judge and prosecutor sleeping together - if it helps uphold a conviction.
So it's a pretty extraordinary thing to read about some aspect of Texas' justice system receiving high praise from states who'd like to copy us, and it's a tremendous credit to legislators for putting aside partisan differences in order to make those reforms happen. Texas has lately become a national leader at reducing its incarceration rate. The state needs to build on those successes, not rest on our laurels, but I'm proud of everyone who was involved in making those changes happen and also protecting those accomplishments in 2009.
Just to have mentioned it, since Madden, Whitmire and their respective committees always get credit for the 2007 probation reforms, its should be noted that Senate Finance Chair Steve Ogden, who is retiring from the Senate this election cycle, supported funding for the 2007 probation initiatives even though they went against some of his own tuff-on-crime views, which as Finance Chair came into conflict with his more notorious fiscal conservative streak. Texas' probation reforms wouldn't have happened if he hadn't been willing to take a leap of faith, and the good senator hasn't always gotten credit for that. So thanks, Sen. Ogden.