Texas was praised yesterday for adopting wide-ranging prison reforms that have dramatically cut the state’s recidivism rate — and warned that repeat incarcerations and criminal justice costs could rise again if budget-burdened legislators slash the programs. The comments came from Adam Gelb of the Pew Center on the States as he announced results of a nationwide study of prison recidivism (reported in the Inside Criminal Justice section of this site).
The study found 31.9 percent of the 72,130 prisoners released in 2004 returned to prison within three years. Only 24.3 percent of Texas inmates released in 2007 – the year Texas initiated the reforms — returned to prison within three years, says the Texas Legislative Budget Board. The reforms included creation of intermediate sanction facilities for parolees who violate terms of their release, allowing offenders to serve short terms behind bars rather than face parole revocation. Diversion programs for mentally ill offenders and those with substance abuse problems were started, and more money was allocated for adult probation programs. State Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee, is “guardedly optimistic funding will be provided to continue our progress. The lieutenant governor says that we’re short of funds, but our priorities will be education, Medicaid and criminal justice. I don’t let him forget that.”