Texas has made great strides in the area of criminal justice reform, but more must be done. Texas still has the most prisoners of any state even though it has reduced its incarceration rate and closed three prisons. One of the biggest victories in the area of criminal justice reform last session was the decriminalization of truancy for juveniles. The Legislature also adjusted property theft thresholds for inflation, which should push incarceration rates down in the years to come.
In Texas, 48.5 percent of prisoners are incarcerated for non-violent offenses, costing taxpayers almost $4 million per day. TAB believes that non-violent offenders, especially first-time offenders, should continue working, paying bills and taxes, keeping up with child support and maintaining other financial and personal commitments. With business paying the majority of taxes in this state, TAB believes that the fight on crime should be smarter, be focused on public safety and be geared towards rehabilitation more than punishment when appropriate. TAB supports the following criminal justice measures:
Bail Reform. Support legislation that will promote granting Personal Recognizance bonds for those accused of non-violent misdemeanor offenses who can prove an inability to pay bail. Judges and magistrates shall still jail or require bail for those accused of non-violent misdemeanor offenses that are felt to pose a threat to the community and/or are felt to have little chance of returning to court.
Community Supervision. Support legislation to utilize probation and state jail felony community supervision as a part of a sentence to increase access to employment, housing and other critical tools to reduce rates of rearrest and reincarceration.
Criminal Records. Support efforts to ensure that criminal records made available to potential employers are accurate.
Driver Responsibility Program (DRP). Support efforts to abolish DRP, which is a double penalty, in tandem with identifying a new funding mechanism for trauma centers, which currently receives funding from the DRP. While the DRP was a well-meaning idea created in 2003 to fund trauma centers, it has many unintended consequences. The reality is the DRP is making Texas more dangerous by creating severe economic hardship, putting more unlicensed drivers on the road, and limiting employment opportunities.
Education and Training. Support efforts that prioritize educational and vocational programs for individuals, which are proven to reduce re-offending and increase workforce participation. The harder it is for someone to find a job after release from prison, the greater the chance he or she will end up going back to prison.
Mental Health. Support efforts to treat offenders with mental health issues and ensure that services are readily available when released. Adults with untreated mental health and substance issues are 20 to 25 percent more likely to be rearrested.
Participation Credits. Support efforts to allow the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to provide the timely award of credits for participation in self-improvement programming within state jails.
Penalties. Support legislation to downgrade first-time minor drug possession offenses and allow courts to divert individuals to a treatment program when the offender is deemed by the court not to be a threat to public safety. Use the savings derived from diversion to strengthen existing treatment programs in the community or create tailored treatment programs, as necessary, to address possession offenses.
Property-Related Offense Thresholds. Support legislation to address property offenses by updating damage thresholds in light of inflation and updating monetary thresholds for property-related offenses that have not changed in 20 years.
Raise the Age. Support legislation that allows 17-year-olds to be treated in the juvenile system when appropriate while giving judges the authority to transfer those younger than 18 into the adult system on a case-by-case basis.