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Solutions for Safely Reducing Incarceration
Texas currently incarcerates approximately 155,000 men and women in prisons and state jails. Almost three times as many individuals – nearly 420,000 – are on probation. Yet incarceration accounts for approximately 90% of Texas’ corrections spending. Only 10% is allocated to diversions – like community-based supervision and treatment – which are proven to be more cost-efficient and effective than prison. The result of this imbalance, combined with the over-criminalization of low-level offenses, is that nearly half of Texas’ adult prisons and state jails are filled with nonviolent individuals, and taxpayers are left to foot the bill.
- Safe and Effective Diversion: Texans already spend almost $3 billion every year to incarcerate people in state facilities. Those who don’t pose a legitimate threat to public safety shouldn’t take up costly prison or jail beds. Instead, these individuals should be supervised in the community, where they can access effective support services that will increase their chances of staying on the right path – and continue to fulfill any employment or family obligations. With a more sensible approach, Texas will keep prison and jail populations manageable and close costly facilities that merely serve to warehouse people.
- Treatment That Works: The primary emphasis of Texas’ criminal justice system must be on rehabilitation, especially for those with substance abuse and mental health problems. This way, we will be able to address the root causes of criminal behavior and close the revolving door to prison. Locking individuals away will not and cannot cure addiction and mental illness.
- Investments in Strategies that Strengthen Communities: Community supervision and treatment are not only proven to increase public safety, they save taxpayers money through lowered rates of re-offending. Texas must take all steps necessary to support the role that probation plays: strengthening communities through the success of those they supervise. Technical assistance for departments and adequate program funding are imperative.
- Critical Assistance for Local Jails: The Texas Commission on Jail Standards helps counties ensure that their jails comply with state standards, thereby protecting them from costly lawsuits. It also trains staff in efforts to keep jail populations manageable and conditions safe. Texas must continue to support and sustain this crucial agency.
- Making the Sentence Fit the Crime: Penalty levels for various offenses that don’t endanger communities, like minor property offenses and possession offenses, should be lowered. Common sense sentencing will save taxpayers money in unnecessary incarceration costs.
- A Better Approach to Improving Public Safety: Criminal enhancements, which increase the penalties for certain offenses, don’t deter criminal behavior. Making illegal behavior more illegal does not to address the underlying reasons for such behavior. Proven programming and treatment are a more appropriate response to certain offenses.