Texas lawmakers on an influential state commission urged an overhaul of the prison rehabilitation, probation and parole systems yesterday, hoping to reduce crowding without building new units, says the Dallas Morning News. Corrections officials want hundreds of millions of dollars to build three new prisons, saying that’s the best way to prevent a projected shortfall of 11,000 beds by 2011.
The lawmakers on the Sunset Commission prefer to pour more funds into in-prison and outpatient drug and alcohol treatment programs; change the probation and parole structure to emphasize early release for good behavior and low-risk offenders; and give judges authority to release state jail inmates with severe medical conditions early. “We’re at a crossroads with where we’re going to go with the criminal justice system,” said Sen. John Whitmire, who serves on the Sunset Commission and chairs the Senate’s Criminal Justice Committee. “I, for one, will never allow us to come short on capacity. But we are not there yet.” Prosecutors accused lawmakers of going soft on crime and trying to solve the prison space crisis by simply turning more offenders out onto the street. Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, wants an “independent entity” to crunch numbers and find out exactly how many inmates rehabilitation and early release programs would divert, so the corrections agency can proceed from there.