Faced with a shortage of beds in Texas prisons, lawmakers initially said they would try to stop expanding the number of crimes for which a person should do prison time. Now, reports the Dallas Morning News, legislators say some crimes just seem to require prison time. There are measures to increase penalties for car burglary, a particular annoyance for big-city residents and police chiefs. A more serious menace, rising methamphetamine use in rural areas, has prompted proposals to increase the punishment for manufacturing the drug.
If those bills become law, more than 8,500 people would be added to the state prison system’s 151,000-inmate population over the next five years. That growth would make it harder for lawmakers to limit the prison population by strengthening probation departments and reducing the number of probationers who fall back into the criminal justice system. The prison system is at 97.6 percent capacity. The measures’ supporters say they are needed to fight crimes such as car burglary, which rose 33 percent in Dallas between 1995 and 2004. Lawmakers reduced car burglary to a misdemeanor in the early 1990s, which some said was a mistake. Critics argue that stiffening penalties would not improve public safety or make offenders less willing to commit the crime. “Do you think people read the law before they break it?” said Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas. “They don’t even know the law. They just don’t think they’ll get caught.”