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February 11, 2007

Resisting the call for more prison spending

This op-ed in the Houston Chronicle, entitled "Think outside the cell," proposes alternatives to new prison spending.  Here are snippets:

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice is requesting funds for three new prisons; two maximum security units each housing 2,000 inmates and one medium security unit housing 1,000.  This request involves the spending of approximately $377 million for 5,000 inmates.

State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Texas Senate's Criminal Justice Committee, and state Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, chairman of the House Committee on Corrections, have joined forces to oppose this request.  Under the banner of "thinking smart about crime," they argue that approximately 6,500 nonviolent probationers and parolees with minor criminal and noncriminal violations should be placed in residential facilities where they would receive treatment for alcohol and drug abuse and counseling for the terms of their conditional release.

I hope that Whitmire and Madden win this battle in the perpetual war against crime.  I am persuaded, however, that their agenda is but a superficial tinkering with a very ugly Leviathan in need of a radical, bottom-up overhaul. Texas' criminal justice system was created by and is administered by many thousands of good people dedicated to the pursuit of truth, equality before the law and doing justice.  Sadly, however, piecemeal changes over many years have allowed for the emergence of a mean-spirited assembly line machine that too often conceals the truth and makes a mockery of the ideals of equality and justice under the law.

The egregious and unintended consequence is a prison/industrial empire, which works to the economic advantage of special interest groups. These groups' collective motto is: "If we build them, they will be sent."  The only way for our state lawmakers to curtail the influence of those who preach in favor of more prisons is to think outside the box....

This agenda is not grounded in the romantic and false belief that there is a treasure in the heart of every criminal offender just waiting to be discovered. Some are incorrigibly mean and evil. It is grounded in a belief that the majority of criminal offenders are not enemies to be conquered and destroyed. They are human beings who should be given opportunities for change and restored to our communities because it is in the public interest to do so.

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February 11, 2007 at 07:00 AM | Permalink


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It appears that Reps. Madden & Richardson have done their homework. A number of persons have noted that a substantial fraction of the prison intakes involve probation/parole violations. They are substituting lower cost work release facilities for medium/maximum security prison facilities. An alternate approach would be to increase community based correction staff so it is possible for them to provide more rigorous supervision of parolees/probationers.

Posted by: John Neff | Feb 11, 2007 8:39:16 AM

Check out gracetowne.blogspot.com

Posted by: Gaddis | Apr 23, 2007 3:36:46 AM

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