Monday, April 19, 2010

Arizona looking to Texas for prison crowding solutions

With their state facing a budget shortfall and overcrowded prisons, the Arizona Republic published an extended feature profiling Texas' probation reforms that's worth reading in full. Here's a notable excerpt:

Legislators [in Texas] began exploring ways to house fewer criminals in state custody and put more in community-based treatment centers where they would be provided with more of the tools to successfully re-enter society.

There were no changes to sentencing guidelines because, Madden said, changing punishment for crimes would do nothing to help the immediate population problem.

"Sentencing guidelines won't help you next year," Madden said. "Without retroactivity on it, you're just looking in a forward manner. That bought me nothing in the short term."

Instead, the efforts in Texas focused on providing more programs for convicts while they are still in custody to help them stay off drugs and train them for jobs when they are released.

The state spent more than $26 million to offer more substance-abuse treatment in jails for low-level drug users and property criminals. It also began to offer intensive substance-abuse treatment to prisoners, which includes a requirement to spend time in a treatment center after release.

The state also spent more than $110 million to build residential treatment centers and halfway houses to help former prisoners.

For those who did violate their release conditions by using alcohol or drugs or failing to pay fines, the state set up a system of progressive sanctions that provided quick, short-term responses, Madden said, such as putting offenders in county jail for the weekend instead of shipping them back to prison. The state also spent $30 million to create more short-term detention centers.

The changes cost the state $241 million but saved much more.

What the Republic didn't say is that Texas risks dismantling those investments in diversion programming next year, just like Kansas did recently. Lately Texas has received a great deal of national praise for its smart-on-crime reforms that leveled off inmate growth and prevented new prison construction while reducing crime. I hope when the budget crunch hits next year in full force, the Texas Legislature makes smart decisions and proves itself worthy of such adulation.

Via Sentencing Law & Policy.


ckikerintulia said...

I hope Texas doesn't look to Arizona for immigration policy.

CharityLee said...

I was told by my son there was a group of people at Giddings (TYC for those who don't know-NOT TDCJ) last week from Arizona studying one of their programs (he did not say which one).