Governing magazine named Texas state Sen. John Whitmire and state Rep. Jerry Madden as two of eight 2010 Public Officials Of the Year. Three years ago,the state criminal justice department asked the legislature for $523 million to build three new prisons, which would allow the prison population to grow to more than 168,000 by 2012. Whitmire and Madden, both with conservative records, teamed up to convince the legislature, governor and lieutenant governor to spend $241 million on treatment, mental health and rehabilitation instead. Now, the state that once put the “t” in tough is widely seen as a model of corrections reform.
Whitmire is one of the legislature’s most colorful members. In 1992, Whitmire, his wife and their 9-year-old daughter were accosted by a masked gunman in their garage. The gunman left, but the experience left Whitmire badly shaken. He later led a successful effort to revamp Texas’ penal code and corrections system. At the time, Texas had 60,000 inmates in the state prison system and another 24,000 in overcrowded county jails. Whitmire’s legislation created a network of state jails to relieve the overcrowding, provide resources for rehabilitation and establish some of the toughest penalties for violent crime in the nation. His measure doubled the state’s prison population. Madden, appointed to head the House Corrections Committee, worked with Whitmire to identify initiatives supported by both liberals and conservatives, including more resources for rehabilitation and more secure beds for treatment. Texas’ prison population has declined rather than risen by 15,000 inmates as projected, and probation recidivism has fallen by nearly one-quarter.