A new form of Texas justice for nonviolent offenders began taking shape yesterday as House budget writers tentatively agreed to overhaul probation with beefed-up supervision, new drug rehabilitation centers, and a system of increasingly harsh sanctions for those who refuse to follow the rules, the Austin American-Statesman reports. Judges would be encouraged to sentence to probation people convicted of such things as theft, drug possession, and property crimes. Judges, prosecutors, and probation and prison officials gave their initial blessing to the proposals.
Today, House Appropriations criminal justice subcommittee will begin work changes that could bring a profound shift in how Texas deals with low-level criminals. Legislative leaders for the first time in decades are pressing to bolster probation and other community supervision programs that cost about $2 per offender per day. Each prison bed costs about $40 a day. Said Subcommittee Chairman Sylvester Turner: “We’re not asking to let anybody go free. We’re not asking judges to turn their head on holding people accountable for their crimes. We’re not asking to go easy on anybody. We’re just looking for a way to make the system work better for everyone than it is now.” He said the plan centers on allocating $62 million for temporary prison beds to hold a convict population that could exceed capacity as soon as next month. Rather than spend that money directly on beds, incentives written into the law will allow counties to use the money for new probation and community supervision programs.