You have reached your limit of free articles this month.

Enjoy unlimited access to myStatesman.com

Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks.

GREAT REASONS TO SUBSCRIBE TODAY!

  • IN-DEPTH REPORTING
  • INTERACTIVE STORYTELLING
  • NEW TOPICS & COVERAGE
  • ePAPER
X

You have read of premium articles.

Get unlimited access to all of our breaking news, in-depth coverage and bonus content- exclusively for subscribers. Starting at just 99¢ for 8 weeks

X

Welcome to myStatesman.com

This subscriber-only site gives you exclusive access to breaking news, in-depth coverage, exclusive interactives and bonus content.

You can read free articles of your choice a month that are only available on myStatesman.com.

Glod: Banner session for Texas criminal justice reform


Even before the last gavel ended the 84th Texas Legislature, much of the media coverage began centering on the failures and disappointments regarding many key issues. Unfortunately, this gloom-and-doom rhetoric has overshadowed many unprecedented successes and reforms, particularly in criminal justice.

In fact, the 84th session has given Texas its most momentous criminal justice reform since 2007. That session, instead of spending $2 billion to expand prisons, lawmakers applied conservative principles such as personal responsibility and fiscal restraint to solve an overcrowding problem. Some $241 million was invested in probation and rehabilitative programs such as drug courts. The results were lower recidivism and incarceration rates, not to mention billions saved for Texas taxpayers.

This session has seen criminal justice reform in a variety of areas that, in the aggregate, rival the transformative changes in 2007. In terms of juvenile justice, Texas, assuming signature by Gov. Greg Abbott of House Bill 2398, will join 48 of the 50 states in decriminalizing truancy. Placing a greater emphasis on school- and family-based preventive measures will give youths a greater chance to become law-abiding, productive adults, while saving money long-term on prison costs. Moreover, Senate Bill 1630 will save $80 million by accelerating Texas’ progress in using community-based programs for troubled youths, rather than remotely located state youth lockups.

Sweeping changes also will reduce the threat that law-abiding citizens will be prosecuted based on unclear and often obscure laws. Specifically, HB 1396 codified the rule of lenity, which holds that if there are two reasonable meanings of a criminal statute, then a judge must interpret it in favor of the defendant. HB 1396, which awaits the governor’s signature, also created a commission to study the necessity of criminal penalties for activities outside the penal code, such as oyster harvesting or pecan tree thrashing.

Most importantly, Texas saw meaningful reform in offender re-entry. SB 1902 allows individuals who have been convicted of a low-level misdemeanor to petition the court to seal the record from the public, employers (except in sensitive fields such as education, health care, etc.) and landlords. This legislation gives those who made one mistake and who have shown they can become law-abiding citizens a better opportunity at housing and job prospects, thereby reducing their chance at recidivism.

Another re-entry reform bill, HB 3579, will provide an incentive for state jail felony offenders, such as those convicted of possessing less than 1 gram of drugs, to accept probation and abide by all supervision conditions. Upon doing so, they could, with the consent of the prosecutor and judge, have their offense reclassified as a Class A misdemeanor. Currently, many of these nonviolent offenders choose short stints in state jail over up to five years of probation, wasting taxpayer dollars and producing 60 percent recidivism rates.

Although the negative normally grabs the headlines, it is important to look at the many successes of the 84th Legislature that are going to have positive change for millions of Texans. I commend our lawmakers for continuing to make Texas the apex of criminal justice reform nationwide.

Glod is a policy analyst with the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.


Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Commentary: Here’s one way you could feel better in the scorching heat
Commentary: Here’s one way you could feel better in the scorching heat

When summer temperatures soar and we are encouraged to find ways to reduce energy, I take extra satisfaction in my favorite household task: hanging out the laundry on a clothesline. During Austin summers — even in the shade in humid conditions — laundry often dries more quickly on the line than it would in an electric or gas dryer. As a...
Flaws in AISD’s bond decisions show need for an independent committee
Flaws in AISD’s bond decisions show need for an independent committee

TA Brown Elementary on Friday, November 4, 2016. Unstable floor leads to cancellation of classes at Brown Elementary.
Obama's secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin's election assault
Obama's secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin's election assault

WASHINGTON — Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried "eyes only" instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides. Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from...
Commentary: West Texas figures out why Abbott hates on public schools
Commentary: West Texas figures out why Abbott hates on public schools

My hero this week is Graydon Hicks, Fort Davis superintendent of schools. A West Texas publication published his open letter to Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick raking them over the coals for “the lack of positive legislative action for public schools in Texas” at the most recent session, which adjourned at the end of May without...
Viewpoints: AISD Trustees should take more time to call bond election
Viewpoints: AISD Trustees should take more time to call bond election

The Austin school board on Monday is expected to call for a November election on a bond package that at least for now totals nearly $1.1 billion and is clouded by uncertainty. Trustees should delay the vote. A number of factors warrant slowing the process. Some projects the board is weighing, such as relocating Eastside Memorial High School to the...
More Stories