Saturday, June 25, 2005

Perry's vetoes worse than reported

The press and the public haven't caught on yet, but Texas Governor Rick Perry's insensible criminal justice vetoes appear almost designed to provoke a crisis. Here's why:

As of last week, Texas prisons are officially full and must contract to rent space for all new prisoners from county jails. Unbelievably, though, it turns out
Governor Perry line-item vetoed funding in the budget for those beds. Since he also vetoed HB 2193 by House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden strengthening Texas' probation system (which would have partially stemmed the overincarceration crisis), as of right now Texas officially has more prisoners than the state can afford to incarcerate, with the problem getting worse every day into the foreseeable future.

Funny, I noticed the Governor failed to add new money for building prisons to the list of items eligible for consideration in the new special session! That's what's needed, though, if the Governor's decisions stand. In a June 21st letter to Governor Perry protesting the veto of HB 2193, Chairman Madden wrote:

[I]t is important that I bring to your attention the affect your line item vetoes in SB 1 will have on our criminal justice system. Last week I was informed that our prisons have reached capacity and that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) will be contracting 575 new beds in our county jails. Today I learned that you have line item vetoed $19.2 million dollars in new funding for TDCJ to contract these beds from county jails. This trend of contracting with county jails will continue as our system continues to put non-violent criminals behind bars for technical revocations.

Additionally, $6.5 million was vetoed from CJAD that provided Treatment Alternative and Incarceration Programs (TAIP). Throughout the legislative process this session, all interested parties have noticed we need additional funding for treatment. This veto furthers our crisis and need for additional funds for treatment in our criminal justice system. Denial of these treatment resources will only result in more low level drug offenses going to an already overloaded and expensive prison.
How unbelievably short-sighted! Vetoing HB 2193 was a bad, budget-busting decision that harmed public safety. Regular readers know the prison system is chock full while the current probation system is broken, with more than 77,000 absconders out there who the state can't even locate. That makes it even stranger why Governor Perry would choose to veto money for beds for more prisoners -- his veto of stronger probation makes inevitable the need for the money.

Think about it: Texas prisons are full, so the Governor vetoes both legislation that would cause fewer non-violent offenders to have their probation revoked, and also money for leasing space for those offenders who now inevitably will enter the system. The veto of drug treatment money, I suppose, was just for good measure: Texas wouldn't want any of our addicts to kick their addictions, after all, or else they might not need to be incarcerated.

It all makes your head hurt just thinking about it.


Anonymous said...

You don't think it is fair to put non-violent offenders back in jail for violating their probation? What if all other resources have been exhausted for these offenders (which believe me, they usually have been). I don't agree that we need to build more prisons/jails/tents etc. Theft and Burglary isn't technically a "violent" crime, but I wouldn't want people on probation out there burglarizing my home because they know they won't get sent back to jail for it. Also you have to consider the nature of these probationers' offenses and the nature of their technical violations. Have you even researched the efforts that are being made by Texas criminal justice agencies to reduce the number of revocations for technical violations. Our Governor is not my favorite politician by any stretch, but give the criminal justice agencies a little credit.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@ anonymous:

You ask: "Have you even researched ...?"

Uh, yes. See here, e.g., and here.

Do you feel the same about drug crimes as property crimes?

Read more throughout this blog and you'll see I focus a lot on the need for programming to help probationers succeed. Right now Texas does virtually nothing but revoke when they go astray, even for technicals. We need progressive sanctions that keep more low-level offenders out of prison.

Perry's vetoes have created a serious capacity crisis in Texas prisons. It's a hole we can't spend our way out of. We have to think, too. Best,

Anonymous said...

Texas does alot more that just revoke when they go astray... We offer to send them to drug treatment; they refuse to go and continue to use drugs...Others take advantage of the chance to get help. The ones who don't, often commit other offenses because they are under the influence... What should we do when they refuse to comply with the orders given by the court. Texas is spending a fortune in rehab and resources to help people get it together... Don't blame probation when the person refuses to accept the choices they are given. Rick Perry is an idiot.