Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Florida looking to Texas for overincarceration solutions

Just a few years ago it was unimaginable that anyone would look to Texas for solutions to overincarceration pressures in state prisons. But beginning in 2007, Texas embarked on a remarkable bipartisan effort spearheaded by Sen. John Whitmire and Rep. Jerry Madden to avoid new prison building by expanding diversion programming and creating incentives to use progressive sanctions and reduce probation revocations. Amazingly, other states - most recently Florida - are now looking to emulate Texas' model, as described in this article from the St. Petersburg Times ("Florida's prison problem could find a solution in Texas," Nov. 18):

Florida is staring at a Texas-sized problem.

Fortunately, Texas might also have the solution.

Two years ago that state faced its own prison crisis: house 17,000 new inmates by 2012 at a cost of half a billion dollars.

But Texas never built any new prisons. Instead, for half that amount, it revamped its criminal justice system, reduced its prison population and became a national model for reform.

Too often Texas' justice system is the source of barbs and giggles, if not outrage and horror, when discussed by others around the country. Our governor scoffs at scientists and daydreams about secession, while our Court of Criminal Appeals notoriously excuses even the grossest official misconduct - like a judge and prosecutor sleeping together - if it helps uphold a conviction.

So it's a pretty extraordinary thing to read about some aspect of Texas' justice system receiving high praise from states who'd like to copy us, and it's a tremendous credit to legislators for putting aside partisan differences in order to make those reforms happen. Texas has lately become a national leader at reducing its incarceration rate. The state needs to build on those successes, not rest on our laurels, but I'm proud of everyone who was involved in making those changes happen and also protecting those accomplishments in 2009.

Just to have mentioned it, since Madden, Whitmire and their respective committees always get credit for the 2007 probation reforms, its should be noted that Senate Finance Chair Steve Ogden, who is retiring from the Senate this election cycle, supported funding for the 2007 probation initiatives even though they went against some of his own tuff-on-crime views, which as Finance Chair came into conflict with his more notorious fiscal conservative streak. Texas' probation reforms wouldn't have happened if he hadn't been willing to take a leap of faith, and the good senator hasn't always gotten credit for that. So thanks, Sen. Ogden.


Chris Halkides said...

Does the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals inspire confidence among readers of this blog?


4 Borders Pundit said...

Well boy Howdy! So Texas isn't the seething cauldron of redneck mores all the time, after all. GforB, you yourself would have us think otherwise, it sometimes seems. There are a lot more positives about Texas to write about, in case you're interested.

You can start by getting out of state sometime, and taking a look around.

Keep 'em coming.

Chris Halkides said...

Oops, my bad. My comment was intended for today's other post.


Anonymous said...

"You can start by getting out of state sometime, and taking a look around."

I recently moved out of state. I knew things were bad in Texas but didn't realize how bad until I left. All of the criticism Texas gets over its criminal justice system is well deserved.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

4 Borders Pundit - I don't think Texas is a "seething cauldron of redneck mores." In fact, I think today's justice system is based on neoconservative ideologies that essentially piss on "redneck mores." Back when the rednecks ran the state, a far lesser percentage of the population was incarcerated.

Anonymous said...

I have worked with the Texas Justice System in one capacity or another for nearly 25 years.

Despite the venere image of ardent conservatism, what I have seen repeatedly is that if you scratch just below that venere with reasoned, reasonable and persistent arguments there is deep well of progressivism waiting to pop out. It is often masked by the surface image and tradition but it is there.

The rethinking of the role of prisons is an example, but so is the change to increased use of community sanctions, drug courts, and more recently a growing acceptance that restorative justice models may be highly effective and less costly.

So, I look at the image problem as a "glass half full" issue and recent changes give me hope for creating a new Texas image rooted more in evidence based practices than ideology or tradition.

Anonymous said...

We can all help to reduce overincarceration. Even the criminals could help out a little bit. If they would cut back a little on their crimes this would have a big impact in reducing overincarceration.

Anonymous said...

Now don't go blaming the criminal!

Francis said...

Florida looking to Texas for overincarceration solutions
Would someone mind looking really abroad?
At Bastoy Prison in Norway, these dreams can become a reality. The idea of an open prison system may seem ridiculous to Americans, but Norway neonetheless has one of the lowest incarceration rates in the world. Oyvind Alnaes, governor of the prison, said of the plan, "It's about giving the inmates responsibility (and) trust, and teaching them respect." Or looking over to Finland perhaps?

Anonymous said...

Norway is not gangland.

Hook Em Horns said...

Florida looks to Texas for......???? There goes the Sunshine State!