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January 21, 2013

Big business joins sentencing reform bandwagon in Texas

A telling and important sign of modern sentencing reform times can be found in this recent article from the Austin American Statesman, which is headlined "Big-business lobby enters fray on criminal justice reforms."   Here is how the article gets started:

In a significant shift in lobbying clout, Texas’ most powerful business group has decided to make criminal-justice reforms a key focus of its priorities for legislative action, seeking ways to spend taxpayer money more efficiently and to improve the state’s economic future.

Bill Hammond, president of the Texas Association of Business, said the group plans to push to expand successful rehabilitation and community-based corrections programs; to change Texas’ drug-sentencing laws to put more low-level offenders in local treatment programs and reduce penalties for small amounts of drugs; and to modify state licensing laws that keep some ex-convicts from ever becoming certified for various trades.

“We’re sending too many people to the slammer,” Hammond said. “The taxpayers and the business community are both being harmed.”

On Wednesday, the business group will meet to plan its strategy to persuade the Legislature to enact changes that Hammond said are designed to keep more low-level, nonviolent lawbreakers on probation and in treatment and rehabilitation programs in their communities, “rather than sending them all to Huntsville.”

The entry of an influential lobby group such as TAB — which represents many of the state’s largest employers — promises to change the likelihood that significant reforms could pass into law. It could also portend a showdown with some victims’ rights groups who lobbied for passage of many of the tough-on-criminals measures of the past 20 years.

Even so, the move is part of a national trend just beginning to emerge that has seen business executives weighing in on justice reforms — another sign that the tough-on-crime era, which saw a wave of “three-strikes” laws that put felons away for life and prison funding that was focused mostly on punishment, has ended.

Business leaders from Florida to Kentucky to Oregon have endorsed corrections reforms on limited issues within the past year.  But TAB’s new role could be the biggest entry by a business group into systemic justice reform.

I have long viewed incarceration as a costly and not-always-cost-effective public safety expenditure; it is nice to see an important big business lobbying group in what is thought to be America's toughest state to be in agreement and committed to sentencing reform efforts.

January 21, 2013 at 02:24 PM | Permalink

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