When Texas legislators return next week to grapple with a bare-bones state budget, a legislative panel that oversees the state prison system is urging them to resist cutting funding for programs that help former inmates and probationers adjust to free-world life, reports the USA Today Network. “As (the prison system) cannot cut back on the security and public safety components of their mission, it is likely that many of the programs that are making a real difference will face the axe,” says the Texas House Corrections Committee.
The panel makes several recommendations, include lowering the fees probationers must pay, opting out of a federal program that requires the suspension of a driver’s license for anyone convicted of possessing even a small amount of marijuana, and sealing the criminal records for qualifying former inmates who remain out of trouble for a specified period of time. Doug Smith of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition said backing away from programs designed to rehabilitate offenders would prove more expensive to taxpayers in the long run because it costs more to send people to prison than it does to provide a path to success. “There were 23,000 felony probation revocations last year, and most of them were for technical violations, not new offenses,” he said. The committee report says probation revocations, while still high, have been steadily dropping for about a decade. During that period, the report says, Texas’ crime rate has dropped about 20 percent while recidivism rates declined from 28 percent to 21 percent.