Home nurse visits for new mothers, anger management programs for middle-school kids, and teaching convicts the principles of entrepreneurship are not standard criminal justice fare, says the Austin American-Statesman. Yet they are high on Texas legislators’ lists as they prepares to tackle changes to the sprawling state prison system. Key members say such programs are more likely to cut recidivism and crime rates than building more prisons. House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden said thousands of convicts might be kept from returning to prison and thousands more might never break the law to start with. “This could be the biggest change in years in how we address criminal justice in this state,” he said.
The new programs could mark a significant departure from a 15-year state policy of mostly building new prisons to keep up with growing numbers of convicts. In the early 1990s, Texas tripled the size off its prison system in five years and while drug and alcohol-treatment programs were never fully funded or opened. The new proposal includes a medical-therapy program designed to eliminate or greatly reduce recidivism among imprisoned alcoholics, and cocaine and methamphetamine users. The plan also would shift existing prison drug- and alcohol-treatment programs to enroll prisoners when they first enter prisons, instead of when they are about to leave. Because many of the programs are now done at the end of a prisoner’s sentence, long waiting lists often delay a convict’s departure