In many ways, wrote Ward, the rise of specialty courts focused on strong probation have made the original state jail concept obsolete: "many of the newly classified 'fourth-degree' felons were diverted to other community-based programs and specialty courts" as local judges became more confident in strong probation methods:
When state jails were established, Jefferson County Judge Larry Gist recalled that courts were supposed to use them in conjunction with community supervision programs or to “get the attention” of a defendant who was resisting a change to a no-crime, no-drugs lifestyle.A sidebar to the story identified the following reform proposals for state jails:
Within a few years came the inception of so-called drug courts, which handle only drug cases and tailor treatment and punishment to fit each offender. As more low-level drug offenders went through those courts, which often sentenced them to community supervision and occasional nights in the county jail for violations — fewer judges were interested in sending defendants to a state jail miles away, especially if there might be a better result by handling the case locally.
- Allowing convicts housed in state jails to be paroled, so they could be kept under supervision after they leave state custody, instead of completing their sentence and being released to the street. Currently, they can serve up to two years with no chance for parole and often without any early release time credits that regular prison convicts are eligible for.
- Restarting intensive drug and alcohol treatment programs that were to be a cornerstone of the state jails but were downsized a few years after they opened and slashed when the state budget was drastically cut in 2003.
- Require that all prisoners convicted of state jail felonies be sentenced first to community supervision, as was intended when the program was established, rather than allowing judges to send offenders directly to a state jail. Many judges found it too costly to bring offenders back and forth to court from a state jail when they could instead sentence them to local treatment programs paid for in part by the state.
- Better integrate treatment and rehabilitation programs behind bars with so-called aftercare initiatives, so state jail inmates can return home under supervision that could help reduce the chances of recidivism.
See past, related Grits posts:
- Advocates on right and left say reform state jail statutes, close more prison units
- Raising theft categories to account for inflation would generate state jail savings
- Media discussion on eliminating state jails lack nuance
- State jail creators: Don't kill our baby
- The end of state jails?
- Harris County DA: Revamp state jails