Texas Jail System ‘Defective’ Says Report

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photo by kevin dooley via Flickr

The Texas jail system is “defective,” according to the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC).

In a report, entitled  “A Failure in the Fourth Degree: Reforming the State Jail Felony System in Texas,”  TCJC said inmates in state jails generally have high rates of substance use and mental illness, and low education and employment levels (an average of a seventh grade education).

The report “demonstrates through data and personal interviews with 140 incarcerated individuals the defective nature of Texas’ state jail system,” the TCJC said in a statement accompanying the report.

Researchers interviewed incarcerated individuals in the Texas jail system, as well as district attorneys, judges, probation officers, and formerly incarcerated peopleThe data showed

Significantly, people in state jails are the most poorly educated of any population in the state, the report said.

Texas in particular has the third-lowest ratio of substance use disorder providers in the country, the study noted. Low-income people must wait more than two weeks for intensive residential treatment, four weeks for outpatient treatment, and almost five weeks for Medication-Assisted Treatment, according to the data.

Texans with drug use disorders are far more likely to be arrested than to receive treatment in Texas, said the report authors. 

“Over the past five years, nearly every category of serious and violent offense has declined significantly, whereas drug possession cases have increased nearly 25 percent.”

According to the report, “the most important thing we can do is divert people charged with low level offenses from jail and connect them with recovery support as soon as possible instead of having them cycle in and out of the system.”

TCJC made the following policy and legislative recommendations:

  • A public health response to behavioral health issues that are too often driving people into the justice system, specifically through pre-arrest diversion that helps people access treatment in the community
  • Changes in pretrial practices to prevent lengthy terms of detention that can lead to harsher terms, and to eliminate racial disparities in justice system involvement
  • Improvements in the states probation system that will reduce revocations and accommodate people with prior offenses
  • Funding for a legislatively approved pilot program intended to improve employment prospects among people leaving state jails
  • Strengthened pre- and post-release reentry supports for people reentering the community.

“These recommendations will help address the myriad challenges facing people who continue to cycle through state jails, at great expense to families, communities, and taxpayers,” said the report.

The study was written by Doug Smith, Senior Policy Analyst at the TCJC; and  William R. Kelly, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Criminology and Criminal Justice.

It’s the latest in a series of reports by the TCJC on the state’s justice system. To see earlier reports, click here.

In the TCJC statement, Smith said: “The most important thing we can do is divert people charged with low-level offenses from jail and connect them with recovery supports as soon as possible instead of having them cycle in and out of the system.”

A full copy of the report can be found here. 

This summary was prepared by TCR staff writer Megan Hadley.

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