Saturday, January 29, 2005

Some material doesn't get stale

As long as I'm recycling old material, I ran across this ACLU of Texas press release from February 2003, but it could have been written this morning:
Texas prisons are projected to overflow as early as next month. As lawmakers scramble to address this immediate crisis, few people are taking a step back to consider long-term solutions, the ACLU said.
The final legislative fix for the crisis in 2003 was to cut programs, expand the number of prison beds (by shortening treatment lengths and converting a youth facility and drug treatment beds to felony facilities), and to pass HB 2668, discussed Thursday in this post, mandating treatment not incarceration for first-time, low-level drug offenders. Now, two years later, the same crisis faces the state again, only most of the short-term fixes have now been used up. The only long-term solutions are either to incarcerate fewer people or build new prisons. One can say today, just as in 2003,

the state’s prisons have become too expensive because the system incarcerates too many non-violent offenders who should be home supporting their families.

"In recent years, Texas prison spending grew faster than spending on either healthcare or education," said Will Harrell, Executive Director of the ACLU of Texas.

"Today, one out of every 100 Texas adults is incarcerated in a state or local facility, and one in 20 is under some type of supervision of the criminal justice system," he added. "That’s a higher ratio than any other state and most Third World countries, but it hasn’t made us safer. Our crime rate has not declined as much as states that incarcerate significantly fewer people. We need to find a better way."

Do we ever. State leaders can patch the situation again this year by tweaking the probation system and expanding drug court options for low-level offenders. But in the long run, only significant sentence restructuring will stave off the need to spend billions to build more prisons. If they don't, the prisons will quickly fill up again, and I'll be able to recycle this post in 2007.

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