Monday, August 31, 2015

Press ignores most important TX de-incarceration legislation of 2015 session

Grits remains surprised that MSM coverage of new laws taking effect in Texas September 1st have omitted the state's most important sentencing reform since the Lege altered probation and parole rules in 2007: Raising theft thresholds for property crimes to account for inflation since the levels were set in 1993.

As Grits earlier had summarized, the measure passed as an amendment after a senate bill failed to get a House floor vote. The resulting legislation will reduce incarceration for property crimes at the margins, a move this blog has advocated for years. The most immediate budget impact will come from shifting state-jail felony charges to the misdemeanor courts. (The threshold at which theft becomes a felony increased from $1,500 to $2,500.) The change should also reduce the proportion of theft cases charged as serious felonies based solely on the property valuation, reducing incarceration in the long term.

By keeping the old thresholds for so long, as each year went by, it essentially became a felony in Texas to steal less and less stuff, creating a form of incarceration creep that ratcheted up penalties for lesser offenses without the Legislature doing anything. One may have preferred they index the thresholds to inflation going forward, but this was a needed short-term fix.

Coupled with legislation to allow state jail felons to earn "diligent participation credits" for participation in education, vocational, treatment, or work programs, and the 84th Legislature may have created room for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to close a couple more state jail unit sooner than later.

These were incremental changes, but significant ones. Heaven knows why the press hasn't given them the profile they deserve.

RELATED: Political correctness won't cut Texas' prison population.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

It remains to be seen how much an impact this may have. The real nuisance is the two misdemeanors = SJF. Get a hero who steals candy twice, now the third is a SJF. I have personally tried a case where the guy had two misdemeanors (a few dvds once and clothes the 2nd) the third (SJF) was over a $3 bottle of medicine. Prosecutor's offer was 6 mons (the minimum). Got a NG with jury nullification. However, these are so common, my hunch tells me they are probably more frequent than a 1500 SJF theft.

Pat Hartwell said...

Is there going to be a list of Criminal Justice Bills that take effect today? My apologies if there has been one - I missed it.

Pat Hartwell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pat Hartwell said...

Is there going to be a list of Criminal Justice Bills that take effect today? My apologies if there has been one - I missed it.

Anonymous said...

I don't see how the value ladders will change much with regard to incarceration rates.

Prosecution was already somewhat restrained by the fact that jurors reside in reality.

Of course it might matter for those that accept a court appointed attorney but many of those are just making yet another another bad decision. They could afford an attorney if it was really important enough to them. Most of them have a car.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@Pat Hartwell, no comprehensive list but here's my compilation of reform stuff that happened this session.

Alice said...

Texas is very progressive as compared to Florida. Here in the land of sunshine taking anything worth more than $300 is grand theft, punishable by up to 5 years in state prison. Felony petit theft can be filed for a second or subsequent theft, regardless of the value. Wait, there's more. The state's dealing in stolen property crime, a second degree felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison, is being charged when people shoplift an item of any value then return it for a refund. Often, the item has never left the store before the culprit is apprehended and arrested. Is this what the legislature had in mind when they made dealing in stolen property a serious felony?

SEMPERFINE said...

Scott:
Please also list and give a summary regarding the new laws regarding expunctions and petitions for non-disclosure. In some respects these may also be some of the most significant changes.

Brandon Barnett said...

As a person that handles theft cases everyday, I can tell you that this was a huge change. Now if we could only do something about the Theft Under $2500 w/2 Priors. Defendants are going to State Jail for stealing a block of cheese and its ridiculous.

Roadsidebetty said...

You should remain anonymous .