State lawmakers have turned their focus in part to state jails, which they originally created 25 years ago in hopes of rehabilitating some occupants, such as low-level drug offenders, and keeping them out of prisons housing violent offenders. Unfortunately, state jails largely have failed in this respect, offering very few services, housing more serious offenders while en route to prison, and producing offenders who are more likely to reoffend than those offenders placed in the state’s general prison population.
After the results of a comprehensive study of the state jail system prior to this legislative session, which pronounced the system to be a “total failure,” lawmakers have prioritized the expansion of local pretrial and probation services instead. These efforts would focus on rehabilitative substance abuse and mental health treatment. To that end, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has requested $8 million in additional funds to address those needs as part of its 2020-21 funding request.
In fiscal year 2016, less than one-half of one percent of the total state jail population was released on probation or community supervision. This means that after spending an average of nine months in state jail, which is long enough to lose jobs, housing, and family relationships, but not long enough to complete effective treatment through the few services offered in state jails, individuals receive no services because they are not placed on any kind of probation. As a result, the re-arrest rate for these offenders is 63%, which is much higher than the 45% re-arrest rate for offenders released from prison statewide.
The legislative study of the issue identified many different potential solutions to these problems. For instance, some suggested abolishing the “12.44” provision, which is a provision in the Texas Penal Code that allows judges to sentence individuals convicted of state jail felonies to less than the 180-day minimum or drop the charges to a misdemeanor. As a practical result, this allows many offenders to serve far shorter sentences on a pretrial basis in county jails, so that they never go to state jail, or do not go long enough to receive any meaningful amount of services. Other suggestions included expanding nondisclosure laws that seal criminal records and adjusting the requirements of probation to be more effective and less onerous. If you or a family member is facing any type of criminal charges, we may be able to help. As experienced Texas criminal defense attorneys, we have the knowledge needed to help you navigate through often-complex criminal proceedings. Call us today at (512) 399-2311 and schedule an appointment with one of our criminal defense lawyers and learn how we can assist you.