Thursday, April 03, 2008

Should state break NIMBY logjam thwarting halfway house expansions?

Should the state require local communities to designate areas where halfway houses would be allowed, make communities that reject halfway houses pay for individual placements, or build halfway houses on existing government property?

Those options and more were floated at the Senate Criminal Justice Committee yesterday during testimony by Marc Levin of the Texas Pulbic Policy Foundation. (I'll have more to say about the rest of the hearing soon.) The Statesman's Mike Ward has an account today of the committee's discussion and the problems siting halfway houses, writing that ("Halfway house solution: Build them at prisons," April 3):
committee members expressed shock that two-thirds of the new halfway house beds they funded last year — 200 of the 300 beds — will be in El Paso because there were no alternative sites.

Discussion shifted to the possibility of building new halfway houses on the grounds of existing prisons, especially in and around Houston. That area accounts for about a quarter of all prison commitments in Texas.

The state now has halfway houses in Beaumont, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, El Paso and Austin — in a lockup near Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and the county-run Correctional Complex in Del Valle. El Paso has two.

Those halfway houses hold 1,400 parole-bound felons.

San Antonio is the largest Texas city without one. ...

In the past 20 years, halfway houses have been a controversial aspect of Texas' prison system, with protests killing every new location aside from one in El Paso that officials said is in a former jail in an industrial area.

Whitmire said there are too few halfway house beds, meaning some convicts must stay in prison for months until a halfway house bed opens up. Then most convicts cannot transition out of prison in their hometown or home county, he said.

Whitmire and other senators advocated a study. Prison officials, while publicly noncommittal, agreed more halfway houses sites are needed. Michelle Lyons, the system's spokeswoman, said the state currently is 255 beds short — down from 500 last year.

"What we are doing now makes no sense," Whitmire told the committee. "Locating them on existing (prison) units makes a lot of sense."

This topic hits a sore point with me. Much has been made of the online sex offender registry where you can find out how many paroled sex offenders live in your neighborhood, but for every sex offender listed there are many, MANY more parolees out there. They're here anyway. Opposing halfway houses and treatment centers just makes it more difficult for them to succeed on the outside and avoid committing new crimes.

The NIMBY types that come out of the woodwork opposing halfway houses must be among the most foolish on the planet. Texas releases tens of thousands of prisoners every year, and the prisons are chock full, with more entering the system all the time. So in the big picture, felons are coming out whether there's a supervised spot for them or they're couch surfing with friends. The idea that people would rather they're freelancing out there on their own instead of in a semi-supervised facility with support services just boggles my mind.

In addition to Whitmire's idea for halfway houses on prison grounds, Marc Levin proposed changes to the Government code to make it easier to make an application, including eliminating the requirement for a newspaper ad of a certain size for three consecutive days, which in Houston he said costs around $15,000.

Levin also suggested pursuing an idea from a bill by Debbie Riddle that I'd honestly not paid attention to last year, which would have required cities that rejected halfway houses to contribute money into a fund that would pay for community placement. I think that's a spectacular idea. It would put a stop to a lot of this NIMBY nonsense.


Anonymous said...

Grits: Here's justice, Texas style;

"In August 2003, Preston ( Amarillo Slim, world famous poker player) was indicted. Amarillo Slim, 74, whose real name is Thomas Austin Preston Jr., was indicted Friday on three felony charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child, said Sgt. Randy TenBrink of the Amarillo Police Department.

TenBrink said the girl reported to her mother that Preston had "inappropriately and sexually touched" her on Jan. 1, March 13 and March 14. The mother reported the allegations March 25.

Preston's Amarillo, Texas-based attorney, Dean Roper, did not return a phone message left Monday afternoon. No one answered the telephone Monday afternoon at Preston's Amarillo home.

harges of indecency with his 12-year-old family member. The charges were reduced to misdemeanor assault in a plea bargain and on February 10, 2004, he pled guilty to the reduced charges, receiving a $4,000 fine and two years deferred adjudication."

What do you say let's just give all sex offenders, a slap on the wrist, fine em', and turn em' loose.
That's how we handle things in Randall County, that is, of course,
unless you are innocent and can't pay for a competant attorney...then God help you! You'll be wearing a label on your forehead and an orange jumpsuit for a very long time!

SB said...

There are many who are innocent and wear the label just as you discribed.
Their families also wear the label.
I have never agreed with Debbie Riddle on anything but she is right about this. We are so eager to lock everyone up. Most who go in are going to come out. Location of halfway houses is crucial if residents are expecting to work. We create situations where people are a burden on our limited resources. We like taking care of other people so well that we go to great lengths to keep some from working. It makes no sense.

Anonymous said...

Great post on the half-way house issue. I am a counselor at the Clements Unit in Amarillo. I see the huge need for half-way houses. I wish everyone could get over their fears and just do what's ultimately going to be best for society.

Angee said...

Any future housing should be called Temporary Transitional Housing and that is what it should look like. Mobile and modular homes rather than brick and mortar. Land should be leased from a local landowner, citizens should be asked for donations of building supplies and inmates willing to do the construction should receive some sort of salary which would go right back in the local economy. People with a little cash tend to be a lot more welcome than those who are flat broke.