Panel Session I - Getting More for Less in Corrections
This panel focused on the use of community-based supervision for nonviolent offenders as an alternative to building more prisons. Not only did this save the State of Texas $2 billion but it also resulted in the state's lowest crime rate since 1973.
Panel participants: John Whitmire, Texas Senate
Jerry Madden, Texas House of Representatives
Adam Gelb, Pew Ctr on the States, Public Safety Performance Proj
Pat Lykos, District Attorney, Harris County
Pat Lykos - *10th Amendment debate is healthy. The question is, what is the role of government? Mission is to make Texas safer.
*Pre-probation program implemented in Harris Co has saved $1.4 million. Includes no charges filed when contract is signed between parents, child and office. More than 9,000 participated in 2010. Non-violent offenders, first time run-in with law, and juvenile has to agree to stay in school.
*Often have to file charges to get mental illness care.
*Gangs brag that they own the night in Harris County, to which Lykos responds, "We're shining the light of day on them."
*Urgent need for more residential treatment residences to keep mentally ill off the street.
*Need for a one-stop facility for parolees. When they are released, instead of dumping on the streets with $50 in their pockets, this facility would help them get ID papers, risk assessment, etc.
*"Houston cocktail" is vicodin, soma and Xanex.
*Thousands of rape kits not processed by Harris County medical examiners office.
*Criminal justice is 6% of the state budget.
Jerry Madden - *Critical fight to retain policy put in place in 2007 - includes drug abuse rehab, mental health funding for youth and adults.
John Whitmire - *aka "Dean of the Senate", longest serving Senator in Tx lege.
*System in place is a model for the country for successful reform.
*School districts writing tickets criminalizing student misbehavior results in disorderly conduct charges on record, even in elementary school.
*Keep urban violators near family as a support system, not transferred out into rural facilities.
*More alcohol treatment beds needed.
*12,000 women in prisons for drug and alcohol violations. 300 prostitutes. Texas is the only state that deals with prostitutes this harshly.
Adam Gelb - *Conducted bi-partisan poll using both Obama and McCain pollsters, focus groups and a national survey.
*First and foremost, people want to be safe. The key point is people believe it is possible to be safe while reducing the size and cost of the system.
*75% favored smaller prison time to cut budget.
*People expect toughness while demanding program effectiveness.
*Parole, probation not favored if viewed as a slap on the wrist.
The recurring theme from the panel was the need to continue to think outside of the box to solve budget crisis and still punish the violator. The overwhelming factor in crime is alcohol and drug abuse. More treatment facilities are needed to keep mentally ill people off the streets.