Tuesday, October 23, 2012

'Texas prison system could use real reform'

Statesman guest columnist Steve Martin had good things to say in an op ed piece with the same title as this post, including these observations:
At a recent conference at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, a state representative was touting Texas’ criminal justice system as a model for reform. I question the validity of that assertion and suggest that an alternative view of what constitutes reform is sorely needed. Here are some performance measures on Texas’ social justice institutions:
• Texas incarcerates the greatest number of persons in the U.S. but is dead last in the percentage of persons who graduate from high school.
• Texas has 75,000 inmates incarcerated for nonviolent offenses, a number that exceeds the prison populations of all but one state.
• Texas prisons hold more people with mental illness than our state mental health institutions have patients.
• Texas continues to incarcerate almost twice as many African-American males as are enrolled in the state’s public universities.
The monolithic prison system we have created is unsustainable, and real reform will require a radical change in how we administer our social justice institutions.
I agree with that. And what solutions does Mr. Martin offer?
What would constitute real reform of our criminal justice system? I draw on two state systems with which I am familiar. In the past six years, California has reduced its prison population by 50,000 by “realigning” its criminal justice system and shifting the burden of managing low-level offenders from state prisons to local communities. California is now spending $800 million less on its prisoners than it did two years ago without compromising public safety and without an increase in crime rates. Ohio’s Department of Youth Services has reduced its juvenile offender population by two-thirds since 2009, by developing an extensive network of services delivered locally rather than in penal settings. Consider for a moment the potential impact if Texas pursued similar reforms.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice has a sizable array of alternatives to expensive prisons beds, but these are sorely underfunded. In the department’s current appropriations request, funding for community supervision and diversionary programs is less than 10 percent of the $6 billion total. The department has requested more money for fleet vehicle replacements than for treatment alternatives to incarceration. The agency has also requested more than twice the amount of money for computers than it has requested for providing services to parolees with serious mental health issues, even though such services have proven effective in reducing the rate of recidivism for such offenders.

Rather than spend our dollars to manage those who run afoul of the law, session after session elected officials simply follow the well-trodden path of supporting a monolithic system whose top-heavy administrative costs have subverted its primary mission to provide public safety and promote positive change in offender behavior, reintegrate offenders into society and assist victims of crime. It is absurd to under-fund a proven and cost-effective program to reintegrate offenders, when the program constitutes an infinitesimal fraction of the budget. That the department is willing to spend $37 million to replace fleet vehicles and obsolete computers but requests only $6 million to provide needed services for inmates being released into our communities with serious mental illnesses constitutes a brazen violation of its goal to provide supervision and administer the range of options and sanctions available for felons reintegration back into society following release from confinement.


Prison Doc said...

Very good article, his points are spot on. Bound to be, they agree with mine. I would add however, that lots of those fleet vehicles really do need replacing.

Anonymous said...

It stands to reason that criminals grnerally do not enjoy education, and those who avoid getting an education are more likely to commit crimes. This correlation is rather obvious to me, so I am suprised these statistics stand out to you. Maybe using, manufacturing, and selling drugs fit into the "non-violent" crimes, but in my opinion the effect drugs have on families, children, babies and our society is definitely "violent". Ask a child who has been beaten because an adult was drunk or high. Ask a teen who can't learn due to being a drug baby. Ask a newborn who is born addicted. The effect of so-called "non-violent offenses cannot be classified as "non-violent". Ask the little girl whose mother glued her hands to the wall, or the girl who is traded for drugs and is raped.

Anonymous said...

We have to work so darn hard to ignore the victims of these criminals.

RSO wife said...

For as long as I have lived in Texas (over 30 years) I have asked this question: "What is wrong with a state that spends more on incarcerating individuals (regardless of race) than it does on educating it's young?" To date, no one has been able to answer that. My own thought is that the same types of people that make these decisions keep getting elected. I heard somewhere that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting different results.

To Anon 9:22 and 10:08 - there are more victims out there than you can ever imagine. Incarcerated people's families are victims too, but folks like you tend to forget that they even exist. Have you ever reached out to those kids before they have a chance to get into trouble? Probably easier to sit back and make judgements than to get your hands dirty with "those kinds of people."

And the next time you are ready to point fingers check out your King James Matthew 7:5 and take the beam out of your own eye first.

John C. Key MD said...

Right on RSO wife--but let's retire the old canard about more money needed for education. Public education is as broken as the prison system is, but lack of money ain't the problem. Just like the prisons, it's too much administrating and too much government, not enough basic teaching.

Robert Langham said...

End the drug war. Tax the stuff and send the dollars to waste in public education if it makes everyone feel better. Empty the prisons and reel in the police and courts...a little.

PAPA said...

has anyone else had problems emailing the "GRITS" due to the recognition emblems. I use these things all the time and good at them but the last several times I have attempted "GRITS" it does not work - thanks

Anonymous said...

I would say I average doing the "recognition" three times per post before it goes through....need to use another system.

BarkGrowlBite said...

Advocating that Texas adopt California’s prison realignment is what I would expect to hear from Hollywood comedian Steve Martin, not from a professional ‘correctional consultant.’ Martin, the correctional consultant, ignores the fact that California’s ‘local communities’ have been overwhelmed by having thousands of prison inmates dumped on them. He ignores the fact that instead of ‘low level offenders many of the realigned inmates and parolees have a history of violence on their rap sheets. The classifications are base only on the most recent arrest, not on past arrests for crimes of violence. And Martin ignores the fact that in many California counties the crime rate has gone up since realignment went into effect.

I’d be interested in hearing comedian Steve Martin’s solution to reform the Texas criminal justice system. I’ll bet it would make more sense.

Unknown said...

Sounds good on paper. The only letting out non-violent offenders idea is a bit simplistic. At any rate it will not happen. Never under estimate the power of large groups of stupid people.

Anonymous said...

"Maybe using, manufacturing, and selling drugs fit into the "non-violent" crimes, but in my opinion the effect drugs have on families, children, babies and our society is definitely "violent". Ask a child who has been beaten because an adult was drunk or high. Ask a teen who can't learn due to being a drug baby. Ask a newborn who is born addicted. The effect of so-called "non-violent offenses cannot be classified as "non-violent". Ask the little girl whose mother glued her hands to the wall, or the girl who is traded for drugs and is raped."

Yep, 9:22, the War on Drugs has done such a wonderful job of stopping and preventing all of these things, hasn't it? (Not). Perhaps, those who refuse to consider that we take a different approach to the problem should shoulder some blame for the fact that we can't even seem to make a dent in these problems that you mention. So, I ask, do you really want to decrease these things? If so, are you prepared to say that our current approach isn't working and to try something else? Or, do you support the status quo so that we can continue to support the entire law enforcement industry that is dependent for its very existence on the War on Drugs. If you really care about these "families, children, and babies" you'll admit that the current strategy is an utter failure and should be rejected. The War on Drugs perpetuates an expensive law enforcement and prison industry while erroding our constitutional rights while accomplishing very little towards solving problems of which you complain. So, do you support the status quo? Or, do you support trying to do somehting different that might actually help these "families, children, and babies."

Anonymous said...

"We have to work so darn hard to ignore the victims of these criminals."

But, its easy to ignore the victims of the War on Drugs, isn't it?

sunray's wench said...

Goodness, for once I agree with BGB and Vincent!

Pushing inmates onto smaller local agencies will not solve the problem, and neither will the assumption that "non-violent" inmates (which actually just means those convicted of a non-violent crime - and there is a BIG difference there) are better off on the streets. Those are the ones who break into your car or home and steal your property time and again, remember.

Those in power in Texas have convinced those with no power and no rational thought process but plenty of money that they need to keep doing what they do to keep themselves safe. They are not interested in the rest of the population of Texas, because they are convinced they should all be behind bars anyway (and someone else will pick up the tab for that).

Lynne Brown said...

STOP, DO NOT MODEL YOUR REALIGNMENT AFTER CALIFORNIA'S. The information in the this article is false. I can guess where Mr. Martin got his information as this is the same rhetoric being fed to the citizens of California. Crime rates are up statewide, both violent and property. Until October 11, 2011 California had enjoyed declining crime rates. Now we have spikes in counties all over the state, big and small. Recidivism rates post realignment are skewed by the fact that the legislation changed the model by which parolees are supervised therefore recidivism rates cannot be compared to pre-realignment rates. Additionally, parolees or probationers have been discharged from supervision in mass numbers. This is one sure way to make recidivism rates look good, simply take them off supervision. That way, when they re-offend with a fresh crime it doesn't contribute to recidivism numbers. It's a massive shell game with criminals running rampant with no deterrents and reduced or no supervision. I doubt Mr. Martin was made aware of the "missing" sex offenders. I doubt Mr. Martin was made aware of the discharge plans to simply discharge parolees/probationers from supervision.
You can trust what I'm telling you because I am the director of the coalition to amend this heinous legislation. I have binders full of the "low risk offenders", a deceptive term at best, who were released under realignment and who have re-offended. I'm not talking about stealing cars, I'm talking about murder, gang activity, shootings, law enforcement involved shootings, domestic violence and more. I get my information from the "troops in the trenches", the cops and parole agents who are hands on with the bad guys. Not scientists who are developing a theory for reducing prison populations. Not administrators who have never carried a case load or worked in the streets with the criminals. I get my information from the legislators who voted against California's plan. I get my information from the surviving members of the families of murder victims, sex assault victims and other serious and violent crime victims. The truth is in the streets, not in a classroom or office. Academia has it's place in the developing rehabilitative programs for true low risk offenders but not in designing legislation regarding public safety. Public safety has been horrifically impacted in California. If you don't believe me, visit www.cjlf.org and read their press releases. If you want more information on our California legislation, contact me at advocatesforpublicsafety@gmail.com. DO NOT ALLOW THIS TO HAPPEN TO YOUR STATE!