Saturday, December 05, 2015

Implementing Texas' new diligent-participation credit law

See an "implementation guide" from the Smart on Crime Coalition for a new bill, HB 1546 (Allen/Rodriguez), which "gives judges the option to streamline the process for granting diligent participation credits to individuals confined in state jails who participate in rehabilitative programs. The new law requires the judge to decide at sentencing whether the defendant is eligible to automatically earn credits for participating in these programs."

According to the criminal justice impact statement for the bill:
For offenders who received the presumptive finding, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) would be required to credit up to one-fifth of the sentence against any time a state jail inmate was required to serve for diligent participation in certain programs. For offenders who did not receive the presumptive finding, TDCJ would continue to provide judicial notification of diligent participation credit eligibility and judges would maintain discretion in awarding diligent participation credit.
The House Research Organization analysis of the bill predicted that, "As a result of inmates serving less time in state jails, the state would save money. The bill could have a positive impact of $81.3 million for fiscal 2016-17."

The Smart on Crime Coalition implementation guide provided specific recommendations for judges and defense attorneys.

In particular, "Defense attorneys should ask the judge to make an affirmative finding that the sentenced individual should be presumptively entitled to earn diligent participation credits in state jail."

Meanwhile, the coalition encouraged judges "to make an affirmative finding at sentencing for all defendants so such individuals can earn credits automatically for participating in rehabilitative programs." And TDCJ must create the capacity to track those judges' rulings so offenders who earn sufficient credits can be released sooner.

Saving money by encouraging offenders to participate more diligently in work, education and treatment programs: That's a policy worthy of the moniker, "Smart on Crime." If it works, next session the idea should be expanded to offenders convicted of higher-level felonies, who would equally benefit from incentives for self-improvement while incarcerated.

1 comment:

Peter.Marana said...

What a terrific idea. Every now and then a little sunlight shines of criminal justice policy in Texas. I would hope that TDCJ also tracks recidivism data for inmates receiving "diligent-participation" credits. I would bet that those showing real effort to improve themselves while in prison would have a low "return" rate once released. So a lower recidivism rate, hopefully, becomes a huge second savings resulting from this positive policy change.