Prisons Full, Tx. Lawmakers Seek Probation Reform


Texas lawmakers still want to be tough on crime, but after a decade of expanding the prison system to 150,000 inmates, the state can’t afford to build more, says the Dallas Morning News. More lawmakers want to invest in probation and drug treatment to keep prisons clear of nonviolent offenders and ensure space is available for violent criminals. “At every opportunity we are going to try to shift spending from the back end of the system, which is prison, to the front end -investments in prevention and treatment,” said House Corrections Committee chairman Rep. Ray Allen. “It is more cost-effective and will better protect the public.”

To make probation reform work, some lawmakers say the state has to convince wary judges that former inmates will be well looked after. In 2004, 54 percent of the 24,600 probationers returned to prison were sent back for “technical violations” -failure to report to a probation officer, testing positive for drugs or failure to pay court costs. Texas has 156,800 felons on probation but only 437 beds in short-term lockup facilities for probation violations. “We put so many on probation for so long, they get no supervision,” said Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. “We need to shorten time frames and give meaningful supervision to give the judges an alternative.” The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is asking for $28 million to hire 391 probation officers. Some lawmakers are proposing to take felons off the probation rolls if they behave for five years.


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