Thursday, December 28, 2006

Wichita Falls editorials: Texas needs realistic laws, not more prison pork

In Wichita Falls, one of the most conservative, tough on crime regions in the entire state of Texas (which believe me is saying something), the local newspaper ran a remarkable pair of editorials this week calling for a change in how Texas approaches incarceration and low-level offenses. The first one (Our opinion: Overpopulated" Dec. 24) bluntly stated a position that Grits has consistently championed:

When members of the Texas Legislature meet starting in January, one bill placed before them would have us build more prisons.

This piece of pork should be tossed to the dogs.

Texas doesn't need more prisons.

It desperately needs more common sense.

Officials at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice want more prisons because their backs are against the wall.

They're pinned there because this state's elected majority consistently favors "getting tough on crime" so as to be able to return to Austin year after year.

Getting "tough" has literally meant throwing away the key for far too many men and women who have actually done very little wrong.

Calling more prisons a "piece of pork" nails the situation exactly. It's throwing money at a problem before even trying to think about creative solutions. Said the Times-Record News:

Sen. John Whitmire of Houston, who is chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, put it mildly when he told Ward: "It appears we're probably wasting millions of dollars filling up beds with people who don't need to be there."

Whitmire says we should not build any more prisons until Texans know exactly who is behind bars, why and whether they really do need to be there.

We say, Amen.

Amen, indeed, and hallelujah! The second editorial ("Our opinion: Unwise spending," Dec. 26) goes on to criticize wasteful prison spending, and it's so good I want to reprint the entire piece here:
Spend a couple of hours talking with inmates at the James V. Allred Unit of the Texas prison system, and the main topic of discussion is not the food or the noise or the hard bunks.

They want to know why there is no drug rehab program, why there aren't more and more relevant training programs, why there has to be a waiting list to get into classes to earn a GED, why they can't earn a degree so as to either just better themselves or to prepare for life on the outside.

And that's just a partial list.

Texas prison officials are asking for 11,000 new prison beds.

One reason they don't need them was cited in an editorial appearing here on Sunday. There are thousands of prisoners who are waiting for parole, but can't get out because the programs they have to complete to do so are not available! According to inmates at Allred, that's the case here.

Another reason: Thousands of inmates don't need to be in prison at all. They didn't commit violent crimes. Some of them are there for having less than gram of dope on their person.

The way Texas laws are written and enforced right now, the default position is warehousing - not rehabilitating those behind bars.

Texas doesn't need more warehouses.

It needs more realistic laws.

Quite a number of the laws on the books today were put there to make legislators look good back home.

They like to run on a "get-tough-on-crime" platform because it appears that kind of stand gets them elected over and over again.

But getting tough on crime in an unrealistic and unreasonable way just costs taxpayers more and more money over time.

And it needs more treatment programs, more rehab programs, more opportunities for inmates to learn trades and develop skills and earn associates or bachelor's degrees.

Texans today spend more than $30,000 a year to keep someone behind bars.

We spend less than 15 percent of that per year to educate a child in public school.

Wouldn't we be better off keeping young people in school and teaching them something valuable for their future?

How many lives would we improve if we spent $30,000 on each child's education rather than on their imprisonment?

To the Legislature, here's the message Texans should be sending: Stop posturing. Start investing, not just in public education but also in programs that will rehabilitate prisoners. Don't build more warehouses.

And do change laws that guarantee human beings will fail.

I've criticized the Times Record News in the past for what I considered their role as cheerleader for some of the worst drug war abuses in their region. But these two editorials represent a thoughtful and welcome change in their posture on these topics. Indeed, I couldn't be more pleased to see the MSM nearly everywhere rethinking these issues.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your comments from the Times and Record News. I hope Carroll Wilson wrote these articles as he is the most fair minded person I know and always and is not afraid to confront anyone he thinks is wrong. My hat's off to you for noticing what the TRN stated, this is fact and not fiction and there are a lot of men and women who do not need to be in prison and need to have their rights restored to them so the can produce and not take. The State of Texas is know as the haning capital and this started when our present President took office. Dear Lord can we tolerate him anymore and the damage he has done to our country? It will take 50 + years to come even close to being the respefted country we once was.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Since you thought Mr. Wilson might have written these two editorials, I forwarded him the Grits link and it turns out you're right. He replied thusly:

"Thanks for the link. I did write them and meant every word. On Sunday,
my column is on a similar subject. Have a great new year."

Anonymous said...

I hope the media will continue to realize the mess we have created. Published yesterday was an article on the rise in suicides in Texas prisons caused by solitary confinement with the important comment: "Length of sentence is the main factor". Texas has set its course with the cost to, not protection of, the taxpayers. Solitary confinement, modifications to solitary to prevent violence by those without options, young offenders sentenced to life, leading to increased mental health treatment and high medical costs for aging prisoners. Reinforced by no meaningful parole, elimination of good conduct time credit, and lack of treatment and rehabilitation making any progress out impossible. Uneducated jurors with huge range of punishment played on by prosecutors. No meaningful appeal. The costs to families and children growing up as a permanent underclass...and we go on and on. Political posturing and retribution/revenge playing on ignorance.