Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Judge: Perry probation veto risks public safety

Judges fear the worst, says the June 26th Beaumont Enterprise, after Governor Rick Perry vetoed HB 2193 which would have strengthened Texas' probation system. One jurist painted an especially stark scenario, the paper reported:
In the late 1980s, Texas prisons were overcrowded at a population of about 35,000 inmates.

The situation was so dire, local criminal justice authorities say, that prisoners were being released after serving 10 percent of their sentences.

[Senior District Judge Larry] Gist shuddered when he recalls what happened next.

"There's this ridiculous picture of a one-rock drug possession coming in and a murderer going out, and nobody wants that to happen," he said.

He doesn't think it could happen again but can't really see what will prevent it.

"Perry started off this session saying, 'absolutely no new prisons,' and then he vetoed the very thing that could help that occur," he said

Gist said he is dismayed by the defeat of HB 2193 after six years of work.
I know the feeling. He's right to worry about the effects of overincarceration on public safety. Harris County will likely feel the worst impact. The Legislature's passage of HB 2193 would have protected the public by prioritizing incarceration resources for the most dangerous, avoiding the scenario of releasing murderers to incarcerate for drug possession or other minor crimes. That's a smarter approach than Perry's do-nothing alternative. As HB 2193 co-author state Rep. Ray Allen (R-Grand Prairie) has said, we should reserve incarceration for those whom we fear, not for those at whom we're only angry.