Monday, October 25, 2010

'The Correctionists'

Governing magazine named Texas state Sen. John Whitmire and Rep. Jerry Madden 2010 Public Officials of the Year to honor their work to create new diversion programs that staved off new prison construction. See interviews with both men here and an accompanying editorial titled "The Cost of Blind Justice." Here's a taste from the opening of the magazine's profile:
It was a large funding request but not an unusual one, at least not for Texas. Over the course of the previous decade, Texas had more than doubled the number of people behind bars, increasing its inmate population from roughly 64,000 in 1993 to 154,000 in 2007. Now the Texas Department of Criminal Justice wanted the state Legislature to provide $523 million in additional funding for three new prisons, which would allow the prison population to grow to more than 168,000 by 2012.

The department had good reasons to expect a positive response. The chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, John Whitmire, was a conservative Democrat from Houston and the author of Texas' famously tough penal code. His counterpart in the House was a conservative Republican from Plano, Jerry Madden. Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst were on board.

But instead of OK'ing the request, Whitmire and Madden did something unexpected. They teamed up to convince the Legislature, governor and lieutenant governor to spend $241 million on treatment, mental health and rehabilitation instead. Three years later, the state that once put the "t" in tough is widely seen as a model of corrections reform.
Congratulations to both men on the well-deserved accolades.

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