an endorsement by the strangest of political bedfellows this session: the liberal Texas Appleseed and the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Their joint endorsement blessed the latest milestone in a five-year transformation of the Texas criminal justice system, perhaps the one area in state government where the left and right have found common ground — in the shared belief that prisons cost too much and accomplish little.
Hart mentioned that Sen. John Whitmire and Rep. Jerry Madden have "promoted similar reforms in the adult criminal justice system," but the adult-side reforms haven't been nearly as sweeping as among juveniles, where the youth prison population has declined an astonishing 72% since 2006 while juvenile crime steadily declined. Grits was hopeful that the success of de-incarceration among juveniles coupled with the budget crunch would spur larger reductions in adult incarceration, where the 2007 reforms praised by Hart in the article have mostly maximized their impact and stalled out. Technical revocations are down on the parole side, she notes, but on the probation side they remain stubbornly high. Texas' decision to close one prison this year - the first such closure in state history - pales in comparison to what's happened at TYC.TPPF generally supports low-tax policies, but its involvement was inspired by more than just fiscal concerns, according to Midland oilman Tim Dunn, a donor and board member. Dunn said he decided to underwrite a criminal justice researcher at the think tank because he was impressed by former Nixon adviser Chuck Colson's prison ministry. He also saw the growth of the prison industry as an extension of government power, which clashes with his views on limited government.
"We care about money too," Dunn said. But, he added, "It is not in our best interest to take someone who is a productive member of society and train them to be a hardened criminal. It's morally stupid."
Texas' juvie model provides a blueprint for a much more massive de-escalation of costs on the adult side, if the Lege can ever muster the political will. This session, they could not. But the more that backers of limited government begin to extend that critique to mass incarceration, the sooner the time may come when that can happen. At the end of the day, as P.S. Ruckman recently pointed out, sensationalistic media hyping fear is probably a bigger barrier to change than conflicting political ideologies, which as demonstrated in this story can accommodate reform on both the left and the right.