Texas Debates The Worth Of Its Pioneering Jail System


When Texas’ network of state jails was established in 1993, the goals were simple: Nonviolent drug offenders, thieves, and first-time offenders would be housed in separate lockups with treatment and rehabilitation programs to cut their risk of returning to a life of crime, reports the Austin American-Statesman. Some legislative leaders are considering a plan that might do away with the idea that once attracted national headlines. Said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jim McReynolds: “The recidivism rates for state jail inmates are higher than for our regular prisons. We need to consider modifying the original model. They may have outlived their usefulness.”

Architects of the state jail system, which holds more than 12,000 of Texas’ 155,000 convicts – those sentenced for fourth-degree felonies, the most minor type – warn that doing away with the special breed of prisons would be a big mistake. Said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire: “We created this system to take all the low-level drug offenders and property criminals out of state prisons so we’d have enough room to keep the violent offenders behind bars longer. The system has worked well. It would be a disaster to do away with state jails.” Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, who served as a liaison for prosecutors and law enforcement groups when Texas’ criminal laws were rewritten to create the state jail system, agreed, saying, “Instead of considering doing away with it, the state should be considering renewing its commitment to the state jail system.”

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