Faced with making deep cuts to schools and human services programs, closing at least two prisons and slashing rehabilitation programs, legislative leaders are beginning to talk about what is usually unthinkable in tough-on-crime Texas: releasing more convicts to save money.Of course, Grits has discussed these ideas before, but now that budget issues are on the front burner, they're not being pooh-poohed the way they might have been just a couple of months ago. On illegal immigrants, Ward reports:
Not violent offenders, mind you, but nonviolent foreign citizens who are eligible for parole and old, infirm convicts, some of whom have been diagnosed as dying.
"We don't have the resources to continue business as usual in Texas," said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston , whose committee oversees prison operations.
"Everything is on the table for discussion this year. Everything."
About 3,000 were behind state bars as of December for nonviolent or drug offenses, according to statistics from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. All were listed as parole-eligible. All are targeted for deportation as soon as they are released. The majority of the inmates in question were in the country illegally before their arrest, lawmakers said recently.On medical parole: "Several hundred inmates who are considered terminal or completely incapacitated are among those being looked at for release, lawmakers said. The cost savings from these medical releases have not been determined."
By some calculations, sending them all home could save more than $54 million a year — enough to restore some of the deep cuts planned in prison, human services, public education and many other state programs.
A couple of remarkable quotes jumped out at me from the article. First:
"What this state is finally realizing is that we've got too many people locked up who may not need to be in prisons," said Sheryl Lynn Washington, a crime victim advocate from Houston and self-proclaimed tea party activist who was at the Capitol on Tuesday urging more treatment and rehabilitation programs and less imprisonment.I'm not sure most folks would associate this issue with tea party activists, but it goes to show the extent to which the subject crosses party and ideological lines. Another remarkable quote comes from a victims' rights advocate:
"Use prison only for the worst, most violent offenders, not everyone who violates any little law."
"If they want to get rid of the dopers, OK. The drunks, hot check artists, the thieves, OK," said William "Rusty" Hubbarth , an Austin lawyer who is a vice president for Justice for All, a Houston-based crime victims group.Of course, Grits would prefer the Lege consider even bolder options for reducing the inmate population. But I find it telling that even traditional "tuff-on-crime" types recognize that continuing to lock up low-level offenders isn't a viable financial option. If the tea party folks and victim rights advocates can wrap their heads around that concept, maybe it's not completely beyond the pale to hope that, before the 82nd session is complete, a majority of Texas legislators will be able to do so, too.
"But they should keep all the sex offenders and the 3G (violent) offenders right where they are. They don't need to go anywhere."