Re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion, su­per­vi­sion need to re­turn to state jails

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS - From the right Mon­day Tues­day Wed­nes­day Thurs­day JAY JAN­NER / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN Moll is a ju­ve­nile jus­tice pol­icy an­a­lyst for the Cen­ter for Ef­fec­tive Jus­tice with the Texas Pub­lic Pol­icy Foun­da­tion, a non­profit, free-mar­ket re­search in­sti­tute based

Aba­sic

tenet of Texas crim­i­nal jus­tice is cor­rec­tions: pun­ish­ing a law­breaker and re­dress­ing his or her wrongs. It is not sup­posed to be easy. It is not sup­posed to cater to the in­mate’s de­sires, but rather keep Texas streets safe.

So when Texas crim­i­nals pre­fer to spend time in a state jail rather than at home on pro­ba­tion, as cor­rec­tions of­fi­cials across the state report, we should be ex­tremely con­cerned. This pref­er­ence should serve as a red flag that our tax dol­lars, to the tune of hun­dreds of mil­lions, are not be­ing wisely spent on state jails.

The state jail sys­tem was cre­ated in 1993 when law­mak­ers re­clas­si­fied cer­tain non­vi­o­lent Class A mis­de­meanors and third-de­gree felonies as state jail felonies. This sys­tem had two goals: en­sure suf­fi­cient prison beds were avail­able for vi­o­lent and se­ri­ous of­fend­ers in Texas, and in­crease re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion for low-level of­fend­ers at a lower cost.

The 1993 Leg­is­la­ture was quite pre­scient: Us­ing state jails in this way would have been akin to swift and sure sanc­tions, which to­day are widely used to in­crease pro­ba­tion com­pli­ance, re­duce drug use, and break the cy­cle of crim­i­nal­ity among low-level of­fend­ers. This works be­cause of­fend­ers are forced to ac­cept im­me­di­ate con­se­quences for their mis­be­hav­ior while on pro­ba­tion, such as in­creased re­port­ing, elec­tronic mon­i­tor­ing, drug treat­ment, or even spend­ing the week­end in county jail.

State jails, as a part of the com­mu­nity su­per­vi­sion sys­tem, would have filled the same role. With ei­ther “up­front” time in a state jail, or as pun­ish­ment for pro­ba­tion vi­o­la­tions, state jails would have been the stick that made pro­ba­tion work for state jail of­fend­ers.

Un­for­tu­nately, Texas never was able to re­al­ize the fruits of this vi­sion­ary sys­tem. Be­fore the first state jail even opened its doors, later Leg­is­la­tures re­moved the re­quire­ment of com­mu­nity su­per­vi­sion from state jail sen­tences and greatly re­duced re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive pro­gram­ming within the state jails.

With th­ese changes, state jail of­fend­ers are now di­rectly sen­tenced to a term of six to 24 months in a state jail, with lit­tle or no fo­cus on re­ha­bil­i­tat­ing them away from a life of crime and no su­per­vi­sion upon reen­ter­ing so­ci­ety.

More than a decade later, we are faced with the re­sults of this de­ci­sion. State jail felons now pre­fer state jail over pro­ba­tion since it is “eas­ier.” Pro­ba­tion en­tails years of rules, meet­ings, drug tests, and liv­ing crime-free. State jails carry no such re­quire­ments

Kath­leen Parker

David Brooks

Ross Douthat

Ramesh Ponnuru upon re­lease. In ad­di­tion, state jails, in­tended to be a cheaper alternative to prison, now cost just a dol­lar or two less per day than prisons.

But worse yet are re­cidi­vism rates for state jail of­fend­ers, which are ac­tu­ally worse than in Texas prisons. Fully 22 per­cent more state jails felons are re-in­car­cer­ated af­ter three years than those re­leased from prison, and 32 per­cent more of those re­leased from a state jail were re­ar­rested than those coming out of prison.

Texas tax­pay­ers should find th­ese re­sults to be un­ac­cept­able. With hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars spent each year on state jails, and out­comes than prison, state jails are in dire need of re­form.

The 1993 Leg­is­la­ture had the right idea: make state jails part of the com­mu­nity su­per­vi­sion sys­tem, and use the state jails as a pun­ish­ment for pro­ba­tion vi­o­la­tions, while strongly em­pha­siz­ing re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. State jail felony of­fend­ers who are ca­reer crim­i­nals or have prior, more se­ri­ous felonies would re­main sub­ject to prison, not jail, as un­der cur­rent law. How­ever, by re­form­ing the sen­tenc­ing statutes to re­quire com­mu­nity su­per­vi­sion, state jails can be rein­vig­o­rated as a tool to break the cy­cle of crim­i­nal­ity in lowrisk of­fend­ers.

Fewer state jail of­fend­ers spend­ing full terms in a state jail will re­sult in sub­stan­tial fis­cal ad­van­tages; but far more im­por­tantly, fewer state jail of­fend­ers re­laps­ing into crime will mean Texas streets are safer than ever be­fore. This ses­sion, the Leg­is­la­ture should pri­or­i­tize state jail re­form to keep Texas ci­ti­zens safe.

Amity Shlaes Charles Krautham­mer

Ge­orge Will Kath­leen Parker will re­turn.

In­mates read and watch TV in a hous­ing area at the Travis County State Jail in Austin ear­lier this month.

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