Senate Interim Criminal Justice Committee Examines Alternatives to Prison
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee is trying to determine whether non-violent drug offenders can be treated and rehabilitated outside of the state prison system.
The first witness today was Dr. Tony Fabelo, the Executive Director of the Criminal Justice Council, who briefed the committee on the current recidivism rates and how offenders are tracked by the state. He says that over the past couple of years, fewer offenders are returning to prison. He also said the Texas recidivism rate is lower than that of many comparable states.
Several committee members questioned the methodology which created the statistics. They wanted to make sure that Texas was using the same standards to come up with these numbers as did those other states. Fabelo said that outpatient treatment was essential, since institutional treatment could not work without it.
Gary Johnson from the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) reported to the committee on how community-based programs are working. Other representatives from TDCJ gave the members an overview of what substance abuse programs are available, how those programs are evaluated to ensure that they are accountable, and how the rate of incarceration can be reduced.
Later, former TDCJ inmates testified that early intervention with teenage offenders and programs that help inmates make the transition back to normal life are all important and worth funding. Other witnesses testified about the problems their own families had had with the criminal justice system.
The Senate Interim Committee on Criminal Justice is chaired by Senator Kenneth Armbrister of Victoria. Vice-chairman is Senator John Whitmire of Houston. Members include senators Teel Bivins of Amarillo, Mike Moncrief of Fort Worth, Steve Ogden of Bryan, Todd Staples of Palestine and Royce West of Dallas. The committee recessed subject to call of the chair with its next meeting to be announced at a later date.