Overhaul Texas’ Failed State Jail System

Policy Background

Texas’ state jail system was originally intended to divert people with nonviolent drug and property offenses from crowded prisons and instead offer them rehabilitative services in localized facilities, followed by community supervision. However, because the state did not adequately fund rehabilitative services, the 8,000 people in state jails today have extremely limited access to treatment and programming options, and typically have no post-release supervision. Despite taxpayers’ annual investment of $150 million in this population,1 people sent to state jails go on to have the highest re-arrest rate of any population released from a state correctional institution in Texas – nearly 63 percent, compared to 46 percent for prison releases2 – creating another cycle that wastes state resources and fails to meet Texas’ public safety goals.

Pretrial programs offer an alternative: They allow counties to interrupt the cycle by more immediately connecting arrestees to community-based substance use or mental health treatment, which address the underlying causes of criminal behavior; and through rigorous supervision, these programs create strict accountability. This helps mitigate the risk of releasing a person before trial who may have a history of criminal justice involvement due to untreated substance use or mental health issues. The results of such programs are significant: Diverting people from jail and into community-based services ($7/day3) produces 30-50 percent lower recidivism rates, depending on whether the individual was to be sentenced to county jail ($60/day4) or state jail ($53/day5).6

Proposed Solution

(1) Provide counties with pretrial and diversion grant funds through the Community Justice Assistance Division to improve their capacity to offer substance use and mental health treatment and recovery supports, with priority given to counties committed to utilizing pretrial interventions, speedy case processing, and strategies to encourage success while under supervision; and tie outcomes (meeting performance targets) to continued receipt of pretrial funding. (2) Reduce penalties for certain first and low-level offenses to prevent a lifelong felony record, and to provide people more opportunities and incentives to choose probation supervision and treatment over a jail term. (3) For people who are ultimately sentenced to state jails, encourage the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to partner with nonprofits and community providers to offer pre- and post-release case management and peer support to reduce people’s likelihood of re-offending and returning to confinement.

Relevant Bill

Other Bills Related to Diversion or Community-Based Supports for People in the Justice System

  • Bill Number: HB 395 [Gervin-Hawkins]
    Bill Caption: Relating to the issuance of a citation for a criminal trespass offense punishable as a Class B misdemeanor.

  • Bill Number: HB 1787 [Geren]
    Bill Caption: Relating to the punishment for the criminal offense of theft.

Other Materials


1 Texas Department of Criminal Justice, FY 2017 Statistical Report, 1.

See also: Legislative Budget Board (LBB), Criminal and Juvenile Justice Uniform Cost Report: Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016, January 2017, 4 [$52.88 per person per day].

3 LBB, Criminal and Juvenile Justice Uniform Cost Report: Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016, January 2017, 6 [see Intensive Supervision Probation – State Cost: $6.95 per person per day].

4 Texas Commission on Jail Standards, Immigration Detainer Report, 10/1/2018. Calculation = (Total Cost / # of Inmate Days) = $59.80 per person per day.

5 LBB, Criminal and Juvenile Justice Uniform Cost Report: Fiscal Years 2015 and 2016, January 2017, 4 [$52.88 per person per day].

6 Tony Fabelo, et al, County Uniform Recidivism Measure Project: Third Year Results for Harris County, April 21, 2017, 20.