« Spotlighting BOP's continued curious failure to make serious use of "compassionate release" | Main | Should an uptick in federal gun prosecutions garner bipartisan praise? »

July 30, 2017

Reviewing the unique (and uniquely important?) Texas experience with criminal justice reform

This lengthy new Business Insider article, headlined "Texas is shedding its lock-'em-up image thanks to a 37-year-old tattooed lawyer and an unlikely political alliance," provides an extended account of how one significant state became a significant leader on criminal justice reform. Here is a small excerpt:

Until 2005, criminal-justice reform had been nearly impossible to pass in Texas, as was the case in many conservative states. Reformers were derided as "soft on crime" while even popular bills ran into vetoes from Republicans like Gov. Rick Perry, budget crises, and tough-on-crime district attorneys, many of whom view securing harsh sentences as a metric of success.

But with Texas's prisons bursting at the seams, legislators were faced with a choice: reduce incarceration with reforms or funnel billions into new prisons.  At the same time, a new movement emerged among conservatives, led by Marc Levin, the director of the Right on Crime campaign created by the right-leaning Texas Public Policy Foundation. Levin, an Austin-based attorney and public-policy expert, and other conservatives like him understood ideas such as addressing substance abuse with treatment rather than incarceration, and promoting parole, probation, and reentry programs, as inherent to conservative ideology, not antithetical to it.

Meanwhile, fiscal conservatives in the state had grown appalled by the taxpayer burden of funding and maintaining new prisons, while libertarians were cynical of the broad government power required to funnel vast numbers of Texans through prisons each year.  Social conservatives like Prison Fellowship, an evangelical Christian organization founded by Chuck Colson, a former Watergate-era felon, approached reform after witnessing through their prison-ministry programs how rarely inmates were given opportunities for redemption.

"You really had a point where the only thing that was standing against reform from the conservative perspective ... would just be the muscle memory of being 'tough on crime' for decades," Derek Cohen, the deputy director of Right on Crime, told Business Insider.

What propelled reform forward, however, was that those groups were able to join with liberals long clamoring for change in the Republican-controlled state.  The movement formed the Texas Smart On Crime Coalition to push their agenda in the statehouse and, while the coalition is bipartisan, that doesn't mean they agree on everything.  The movement can be thought of as a sort of Venn diagram.  Liberals, conservatives, and religious groups each have their own reform plans, and they work together on issues where there is broad agreement, while still vehemently opposing one another where values diverge.  "This shows that just because it's bipartisan doesn't mean that it's compromise," Cohen said. "We're retaining our perfect circles and just in the few places that they overlap, that’s where we're working together."

Common issues like bail reform, rehabilitation and treatment programs, and prosecuting youths through juvenile rather than adult courts are all fair game for collaboration. But issues like "mens rea reform," or requiring more proof of a defendant's culpable mental state, are more polarized. Similarly, en masse sentence reductions for drug crimes and "ban the box" initiatives — some of which impose civil or criminal penalties on employers that ask about applicants' criminal histories — remain partisan battlefields.

Cohen said the key to unlocking reforms in Texas has been that most Americans, whether conservative or liberal, just want a system that works. "They want a system that shows that that behavior is morally blameworthy ... but also that which rehabilitates," Cohen said. "There isn't this monolithic, punitive impulse in Texas or in conservatives or liberals or anywhere in the country."

July 30, 2017 at 05:38 AM | Permalink


This irresponsible policy saw a surge in murders in many cities. Not mentioned.

Any drop in thefts came from the carfentanyl opiate overdoses. This shit is so good, police dogs have come out of checking wrapped packages, staring, and nodding out.

The Chinese are experts at fake products. They have produced fake eggs. Imagine duplicating a shell, a yolk, the white albumin, and the cholazza suspending the yolk, to generate 2 cents more profit over each real egg.

Carfentanyl is cheap compared to heroin, a natural product. It is all over the news. Why is this biased article leaving out this most likely reason for the dropping crime rate, the passing of of the addicts by the thousands?

Posted by: David Behar | Jul 30, 2017 11:00:25 AM

The pro-criminal lawyer will take credit for the drop in crime.

When I proposed 123D, I figured 10,000 executions of the violent birth cohort would reduce crime substantially. Now, we are getting 40000 overdose deaths, still sweeping up, headed to 60,000. This is unbelievable.

I no longer support the death penalty. Shut it down. Fire all the lawyers running their stupid con, the defense, the prosecution, the appellate judges. Fire them all on the spot. Save $billions, immediately. Let them become high school history teachers. Their salaries may be higher, and they would be great at it. I never learned so much American history, and in such great depth, as when I began studying the law. I was stunned with every turn of the page, once acquiring a legal perspective.

The overwhelming majority of deaths are of addicts, from the cheap carfentanyl mixed with heroin to increase profits by a tiny amount, and not of pain patients. The latter are quite different. You give a pain patient the smallest dose of methadone. They return, complaining, it made me dizzy. It made me nauseous. I did not feel good. I had to cut it in half.

Posted by: David Behar | Jul 30, 2017 10:00:15 PM

Post a comment

In the body of your email, please indicate if you are a professor, student, prosecutor, defense attorney, etc. so I can gain a sense of who is reading my blog. Thank you, DAB