SENATE AND HOUSE COMMITTEE LOOKS AT PRISON AND PAROLE SYSTEM
|Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chair John Whitmire hears testimony relating to prison and parole reform at a hearing today.|
(AUSTIN) — With the Legislative Budget Board predicting an 18,000 inmate capacity shortfall by 2012, legislators are considering options on how to increase prison capacity or reducing the number of inmates. The Senate Committee on Criminal Justice and the House Committee on Corrections held a hearing today, January 30, to hear from experts in the corrections arena on how best to meet Texas criminal justice needs in the future. Criminal Justice Chair John Whitmire was clear on his intent that any changes to the parole or probation system would only apply to non-violent offenders.
Dr. Tony Fabelo, of the Council of State Government's Justice Center, testified that a number of reforms can be made to the state system to cure the impending shortfall. He said that in Texas, the prison population has increased by 310 percent in the last twenty two years, with incarceration rates up 206 percent since 1985. Fabelo said that 4.6 percent of the adult population in Texas is under the control of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, whether they be in prison, on parole, or on probation.
Part of the problem, he said, is a low parole rate for inmates, estimating that many inmates who should be eligible for parole under the guidelines set by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles are still in prison. Another cause, said Fabelo, is the number of offenders sent to prison on technical violations of probation or parole terms, where no new crime has been committed. These violations include missing court dates, failure to meet conditions of a sentence, such as failing to hold a steady job, or failing a substance abuse test. Fabelo said that last year, 55 percent of probationers revoked to prisons were due to these technical violations.
Fabelo proposed some solutions to Texas' prison overcrowding. First, he said, the state can increase the amount of inmates paroled each year while still adhering to state-set guidelines, which would total about 4,000 inmates per year. Second, Fabelo proposed an alternate system of remediation that does not send technical offenders of probationers or parolees to prison, but rather create a system of intermediary sanction facilities that are geared more toward rehabilitation than incarceration. He also said the state should expand residential treatment facilities for drug or alcohol offenders and expand the in-prison treatment facilities for DWI offenders.
Lt. Governor David Dewhurst expanded on his plan to increase penalties and monitoring of sex offenders who commit crimes against children. He said that he wants to follow the example of five other states and allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty for second-time sex offenders. Dewhurst also said lawmakers are looking for ways to ensure that sex offenders comply with the offender registry, and that the information on the registry is correct. He said the state must do something to ensure that Texas keeps a vigilant eye on the state's registered sex offenders. "At the end of the day, we need to know where those 46,000 registered sex offenders are, and we need to have a system where we can track them, and make sure that our children are as protected as we can humanly provide," said Dewhurst.
The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, January 31, at 11 a.m.