ALTERNATIVES



2012:


    Report: Adjust Policy on Who Gets Sent to State Jails

    by Maurice Chammah
    December 3, 2012

    A new report argues that state jails aren't meeting their goal of helping to reduce crime by intensively treating short-term, nonviolent inmates, and it recommends that judges no longer be able to sentence felons to state jails without a rehabilitation plan.

    The report, published Monday by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, says that those convicted of nonviolent felonies and normally sentenced to months in a state-operated jail should instead be released with community supervision. That can include treatment programs, community service, strictly enforced probation conditions and the threat of incarceration if certain conditions are violated. The report's suggestions were based on recent data concerning the number of felons who commit crimes after being released from state jails.

    Jeanette Moll, who authored the report, said that the people who commit these crimes, which are normally financial or drug-related, are seldom dangerous and don't need to be automatically incarcerated. “They have a job, they have a family, they have a community,” she said. “Putting them in a state jail is going to make them lose all of that.”

    Instead, she believes, they should get a chance to return to their communities on probation. “If they don't attempt to stop violating the law, that judge still has all the power to revoke their probation,” she said, but “it's the stake [in getting released] that makes probation work, the feeling among state jail felons that they have a chance.”

    "We're not doing anything for these people while they're in state jail,” she said, citing the fact that 31.9 percent of state jail inmates released in 2007 were convicted of new crimes within three years, according to a study by the Legislative Budget Board. "We're doing nothing to break the cycle of criminality."

    Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials did not have an immediate comment on the report.

    “State jails were about intense treatment and education, or ‘get in get out,’” said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, who in 1993 proposed the legislation that created the state jail system to relieve overcrowding in state prisons. “The problem is now people getting in and out without much treatment and education.”

    “I've been concerned for some time that they've got a good distance from some of their original concepts, particularly with treatment,” he said.

    The report's primary recommendation is to require probation as a first resort for sentencing the felons who now go directly to state jails. As a result, Moll argues in the report, “the immense success Texas counties have shown with community supervision and treatment of felons can be applied to state jail felons.”

    “Currently, state jail felons are not provided any community supervision following their state jail term,” Moll wrote. “Such supervision would ensure that offenders stay on the right track and obtain housing, employment, or desist from drug use.”

    Judges would still be able to sentence some of those convicted to “shock incarceration,” or a short stint of "up-front" jail time. But sometimes, Moll said, “it’s not needed.”

    Whitmire says that the proposal echoes much of what he and other lawmakers envisioned in 1993 and that he's open to legislation to address the high levels of reincarceration. “Something between what we do now and what they propose would make sense,” he said.

    But he cautions that there are many practical implications on the rest of the criminal justice system to consider before changes can be made. Increasing the number of people on probation will increase the workload for judges and community supervision departments.

    Moll wants to see increased funding for those departments, and finding that money might have implications in other areas of the criminal justice system. “I've got to make certain we don't have unintended consequences,” Whitmire said, “that it doesn’t impact probation and the courts in a negative way.”

    Report: Adjust Policy on Who Gets Sent to State Jails


    Texas' Prison Population Down 2,500 in Past Year

    Updated August 12, 2012

    AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas' incarceration rate has slipped to its lowest since 2008 and fallen to fourth overall among the 50 states. That's down two spots from second in the nation as recently as two years ago.

    Exactly what has caused the decline is unclear — but some experts say the state's increasing reliance on rehabilitation programs has been the key.

    The Austin American Statesman reported Sunday that last month, Texas' prison system posted its lowest head count since 2008, even as the state's overall population booms. About 154,000 prisoners are behind bars in 111 state prisons this year, down about 2,500 from 2011.

    Texas is not the only state to experience a decline.

    "It's real. It's happening, not only in Texas, but around the country," Tony Fabelo, an Austin-based criminal justice consultant, told the Statesman.

    While experts say that a decrease in crime rates, changes in demographics and an aging state population have combined to mean fewer prisoners, Texas judges also are increasingly sentencing offenders to alternative treatment and rehabilitation programs that have proven more effective while also being cheaper, the newspaper reported.

    The changes are part of reforms that began in 2007 and have been largely championed by conservative Republicans as a way of reducing government spending.

    They include establishing "specialty" courts in Austin, Dallas, Houston and elsewhere which custom-tailor treatment programs for drug offenders, drunk drivers, veterans and prostitutes, often without prison.

    Also, according to the Statesman, parole officers now keep better track of their charges using advanced electronic monitoring technology, and in-prison treatment programs have been expanded enough in the last five years to ensure a fifth of the inmates statewide participate. Finally, community-based probation programs have helped reduce recidivism rates among non-violent offenders.

    Meanwhile, Texas has closed half of its state-run lockups in its juvenile justice system and instead relies more heavily on community-based corrections programs and keeping youths closer to home for rehabilitation and treatment, the newspaper reported.

    Marc Levin, director at the Center for Effective Justice in Austin, told the newspaper that, "For most nonviolent offenders, community-based initiatives are much cheaper and have much better outcomes."

    When the state Legislature reconvenes in January, more reforms could be coming — including proposals to change drug sentencing to provide more treatment rather than prison time, and an effort to fund a law approved in 2011 that allows counties across the state to reduce their spending on felons they send to state prisons in exchange for increased state support for local corrections programs, according to the Statesman.

    In Texas, the cost of incarcerating a convict costs just over $18,000 a year, not counting medical costs.

    But the gains of late may not last. The newspaper cites a June report by the Legislative Budget Board which predicts that the state's prison population will trend downward until 2014, then begin to increase.

    ___
    Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com

    Texas' Prison Population Down 2,500 in Past Year


    2009:


    UTSA to Host National Restorative Justice Conference

    Apr 07, 2009
    Diane Jennings/Reporter

    Those looking for an alternative to the 'lock 'em up and throw away the key' approach to criminal justice, might want to attend the second national conference on restorative justice.

    The University of Texas at San Antonio is hosting the conference May 13-15 and officials are expecting attendees from 10 different countries.

    Co-sponsors of the conference are an eclectic bunch, including everyone from School of Social Work at the University of Texas at Austin and St. Mary's University School of Law to the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the United Methodist Church.

    Here's the link to more information
    RESTORATIVE JUSTICE NOW

    UTSA to Host National Restorative Justice Conference


    Choice of Drug Czar Indicates Focus on Treatment, Not Jail

    By Carrie Johnson and Amy Goldstein
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    March 12, 2009

    The White House said yesterday that it will push for treatment, rather than incarceration, of people arrested for drug-related crimes as it announced the nomination of Seattle Police Chief R. Gil Kerlikowske to oversee the nation's effort to control illegal drugs.

    The choice of drug czar and the emphasis on alternative drug courts, announced by Vice President Biden, signal a sharp departure from Bush administration policies, gravitating away from cutting the supply of illicit drugs from foreign countries and toward curbing drug use in communities across the United States.

    Biden, who helped shape the Office of National Drug Control Policy as a U.S. senator in the 1980s, said the Obama administration would continue to focus on the southwest border, where Mexican authorities are facing thousands of drug-related slayings and unchecked violence from drug cartels moving cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine into American markets. But it remained unclear how the new administration would engineer its budget to tackle the problem.

    Since President Richard Nixon first declared a war on drugs nearly four decades ago, the government has spent billions of dollars with mixed results, according to independent studies and drug policy scholars. In recent years, the number of high-school- age children abusing illegal substances has dipped, but marijuana use has inched upward, and drug offenders continue to flood the nation's courts.

    "The success of our efforts to reduce the flow of drugs is largely dependent on our ability to reduce demand for them," Kerlikowske said yesterday at a ceremony attended by his former law enforcement colleagues. "Our nation's drug problem is one of human suffering, and as a police officer but also in my own family, I have experienced the effects that drugs can have."

    Kerlikowske' s adult stepson, Jeffrey, has been arrested in the past on drug charges, an issue that the police chief referenced in his remarks yesterday.

    Kerlikowske' s top deputy is expected to be A. Thomas McLellan, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania medical college and the chief executive of the Treatment Research Institute in Philadelphia, according to two sources in the drug control community, who said the selection underscored the administration' s philosophy of rehabilitation and outreach.

    On the campaign trail, Obama and Biden promised to offer first-time, nonviolent offenders a chance to serve their sentences in a drug rehabilitation center rather than in federal prison. In promoting wider use of drug courts, the administration is embracing an idea that has broad support in theory but has never been a main path for people with drug addictions who are charged with crimes.

    The nation's first drug court originated in Miami in the late 1980s at the urging of Janet Reno, who went on to become President Bill Clinton's attorney general. By the mid-1990s, the federal government was providing money for communities to plan and set up such courts -- although not to help operate them in the long term.

    John Roman, an Urban Institute researcher who has studied drug courts, said they now exist in most of the nation's medium and large counties, but they are used for only about 55,000 of the 1.5 million Americans with drug addictions who are arrested each year on criminal charges. The Obama administration has not said how much money it wants to devote to the courts' expansion.

    In contrast to previous administrations, the Obama White House is not giving the position of drug control director a Cabinet rank. The move was intended to give a larger role on the issue to Biden, according to an administration source.

    William J. Bennett, who became the nation's first drug czar during the George H.W. Bush administration, said he spent three weeks in a room with Biden, then chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, hashing out the scope of the new job.

    Yesterday, Bennett called on Kerlikowske to "get the public's attention, get the president's attention, get the attorney general's attention and put this issue back on the front burner."

    Scholars said that emphasis on the drug problem waned after terrorist strikes on U.S. soil in 2001, and never regained the spotlight or its slice of the federal budget as attention and resources flowed to national security.

    John Carnevale, an economist who worked at the Office of Drug Control Policy under three presidents, predicted that the Obama administration would concentrate on reducing demand for drugs through high-impact law enforcement and prevention efforts targeted at communities at risk.

    Under Bush, money to international programs doubled, while funding for prevention and treatment fell by one-quarter, he said. The Bush White House devoted much of its attention to developing the 2008 Merida Initiative with Mexico and Central American countries to support law enforcement training and equipment there. In recent weeks, Mexico's attorney general traveled to the U.S. to discuss ongoing cooperation with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

    "There was a complete mismatch between the rhetoric of the strategy, which emphasized treatment, and the budget," Carnevale added, referring to the Bush administration. "The long-run answer is for the U.S. to curb its demand or appetite for illicit drugs. . . . The national drug problem is a series of local ones, and they're not all identical."

    The office has drawn controversy recently. The outgoing director, John P. Walters, was the subject of a congressional investigation for his role in announcing federal grants in states where Republican lawmakers confronted tight reelection efforts in 2006. Trade groups for narcotics police officers complained about Walters's reluctance to meet them to discuss policy and budget issues. Walters had written widely for the Weekly Standard and other publications advocating for stiff prison sentences and "coerced treatment."

    Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who served as drug czar under Clinton, said Kerlikowske' s background as a street cop would give him special insight.

    "I tell people, 'If you want to understand the drug issue, talk to any cop at random with more than 10 years on the force,'" he said.

    Staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.

    Choice of Drug Czar Indicates Focus on Treatment, Not Jail


    Doing time – outside prison
    States can move more offenders into supervised programs while still protecting the public.

    By the Monitor's Editorial Board
    From the March 11, 2009 edition

    America's crowded prisons are budget busters for states trying to cinch their fiscal belts. One solution, not without risk or debate, is to put more offenders back on the street – under better supervision. A recent study suggests it would work to keep society safe and save money.

    About two-thirds of current, convicted criminals – about 5 million, or 1 out of every 45 adults in the US – are already out of prison.

    They are either on probation for a crime not serious enough for incarceration or on parole after serving time behind bars. About 5 million such offenders are under community supervision today, up from just 1.6 million 25 years ago.

    The cost of imprisonment versus supervision differs wildly.

    A prisoner costs state governments about $79 a day today – even more if prison-building costs are included. An offender on probation or parole costs an average $3 to $4 a day.

    A report released March 2 by the Pew Center on the States says more offenders could safely be supervised outside prison walls. "States can carefully reduce incarceration and still protect – and even improve – public safety," it concludes.

    New York State provides a case in point. "Between 1997 and 2007, New York experienced both the greatest decrease in violent crime and, simultaneously, the greatest decrease in prison population and incarceration rate of any state in the country," the report says.

    During that time the national incarceration rate jumped 14 percent while New York's shrank 15 percent. The state's violent crime rate dropped 40 percent in that period while the national violent crime rate reduced by only 24 percent.

    Of course, prison doors can't simply be opened and offenders dumped on the streets. And no supervision program – no matter how well run – can guarantee no offender will ever commit another crime.

    Releasing prisoners into today's difficult economy, where work may be hard to find, itself presents a challenge. That means states will need to redouble their efforts to provide support systems for those reentering society.

    But new understanding of how to supervise offenders, tested in states around the country, is making these programs more and more successful. Sophisticated risk-assessment techniques can ensure that dangerous criminals stay under lock and key while moving those unlikely to commit violent crimes into supervised programs.

    Electronic monitors – a wrist or ankle bracelet – can keep a 24-hour watch on offenders: Some can even detect when they consume alcohol.

    Those who break the rules – fail to report in, visit unapproved places, take drugs, etc. – must face swift, certain, and proportionate penalties, the study says. This is often not the case today. Offenders don't get attention until they have committed numerous, serious offenses requiring a return to prison. Quickly applying lesser sanctions, from curfews to a few days in a local jail, can prevent recidivism.

    Alternatively, positive incentives can encourage good behavior. In Arizona, offenders on probation earn 20 days off their sentence for every month they avoid violating the terms of their supervision.

    Meeting huge fiscal challenges requires creativity. Carefully monitoring offenders released into the community may provide an effective, if counterintuitive, solution.

    Find this article at:
    Doing time – outside prison


    2008:


    One way to cut prison costs

    "Drug courts" could be an alternative to mandatory minimum sentences.

    State general-fund spending on corrections has risen 127 percent in two decades, according to a recent report.

    The Monitor's Editorial Board
    from the October 20, 2008 edition

    The expanding number of adults in prisons and jails in the US is nearing 2.5 million – more than 1 in 100 adults – the world's highest incarceration rate. As federal and state lawmakers try to downsize budgets, they should reconsider some of the tough-on-crime laws that have helped swell the prison population.

    That's what the US Sentencing Commission is doing. It's reviewing ways to ease federal mandatory minimum sentences passed by Congress in the mid-1980s. The minimums for first-time offenders apply mostly to drug crimes. The commission is considering recommendations that, if approved by lawmakers, could have nonviolent drug users opt for treatment instead of time behind bars.

    States, which have mandatory minimum laws of their own, would do well to watch closely, because prisons account for a large part of their budgets. In 20 years, state general-fund spending on corrections has risen 127 percent, adjusted for inflation, according to a recent study by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States. Nationwide, the annual cost of incarceration is an average $24,000 per inmate.

    The Sentencing Commission is considering drug courts and treatment as a far less expensive alternative – between $1,500 and $11,000 per offender.

    Drug courts are increasingly popular, though they handle only a fraction of the 1.5 million drug offenders who are arrested and charged with a crime each year. Since the first drug court opened in Miami in 1989, they've spread to every state and now total about about 2,100.

    In drug court, offenders can either choose imprisonment or undergo treatment supervised by a judge. Depending on the court, programs last from about nine to 18 months or longer, and include random testing for drug use, group therapy, and attendance at mandatory sobriety meetings. Participants find these programs can be much more challenging than prison, but the payoff can also be a life changed for the better.

    Drug courts have their own challenges – and these need to be addressed if the nation is to use them more. They do not all apply the same standards of rigor or have judges who are skilled at overseeing a rehab regimen. This is one reason why costs vary – as do recidivism rates.

    The Sentencing Commission is looking at drug courts in the hope that they will lower the recidivism rate of 67 percent for addicted offenders. Indeed, studies show drug courts improve that rate by 10 to 20 percent – again, depending on the quality of the program.

    In Texas, even minor drug offenders were required to serve a minimum of two years. Now Texas drug courts are open to offenders with no felony records or histories of violence, and those courts have seen recidivism drop by 68 percent.

    The majority of Americans oppose minimum mandatory sentencing for nonviolent crimes, according to a recent poll by Families Against Mandatory Minimums. The group's research shows that over 20 years, minimum sentences have not discouraged drug use or trafficking, but they have added to incarceration costs.

    The Sentencing Commission is right to consider drug courts as a logical alternative.

    Find this article at:
    One way to cut prison costs


    Madden honored for altering Texas prison systems

    By Stephanie Flemmons, Staff Writer
    (Created: Saturday, August 30, 2008)

    Rep. Jerry Madden (R-Plano) received an honor for altering Texas prison systems, which ultimately saved the state millions of dollars.

    Madden was presented the 2008 Association of Substance Abuse Programs’ (ASAP) Lone Star Award during a luncheon at the annual Department of State Health Services Behavioral Health Institute, Tuesday.

    The award is given to those who show outstanding leadership in the addiction field, and Madden is the first elected official ever chosen to receive the award.

    “I am honored by the organization and appreciate all the work they have done,” Madden said. “They are saying thank you for putting additional resources in the right hands and providing treatment programs.”

    During the 80th Legislative session, Madden tackled the issue dealing with alcohol and drug-related crimes by authoring bills geared toward lowering the amount of repetitive non-violent offenders who have committed drug or alcohol-related offenses.

    Madden said during the session there was a request to build three more prisons, which he said would have cost the state anywhere from $600 million to $900 million just for construction.

    “This would have been a huge cost,” Madden said. “If we spend money on building more prisons it will cost us a lot of money that could be spent on roads or education. I wanted to look at different alternatives, better results and getting treatment programs implemented to break substance abuse habits. This will make our communities safer when they return to society.”

    During the 2007 Legislative Session, Madden advocated for expansion of the state’s In Prison Therapeutic Community and Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facility programs, giving local judges and probation officials more flexibility to utilize such programs.

    As a result, funding for an additional 4,500 treatment beds was secured, allowing offenders to receive treatment while they are incarcerated.

    “Rep. Madden was instrumental in bringing about fundamental changes in how we deal with addiction issues in Texas that has had a dramatic impact on the lives of countless individuals in our state,” said Lisa Poynor, Legislative Chare of ASAP. “His actions have saved taxpayer money while effectively dealing with a serious problem in our society. Without his understanding of the underlying problem of addiction and his diligent efforts, this cost effective shift in criminal justice policy in Texas could not have happened.”

    According to Madden, out of the 150,000 individuals incarcerated in Texas, 100,000 are non-violent offenders who have committed drug or alcohol-related crimes.

    He said Texas’ prison population has significantly outpaced the increase in the state’s general population.

    Statistics reveal the prison population increased 308 percent from 1985 until 2005, while the general population increased 61 percent from 1980 until 2005.

    “The goal of prison diversion strategies is to end the revolving door of recidivism by putting in place effective rehabilitation programs so people who wish to not be part of the criminal justice system can overcome their self-destructive lifestyle,” Madden said.

    His approach, he said, is to fight crime tough and smart, allowing shorter, but tougher sentences.

    Under House Bill I Article 5, Madden said more than $217 million was allocated toward the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) specifically to create more beds for rehabilitative programs.

    Before the 81st Legislative Session, $17 million will go toward adding 700 beds to intermediate sanction facilities, $63.1 million to add 1,500 beds to SAFPF, $21.7 million to add 1,000 beds to IPTC and $6 million to add 300 beds for halfway house facilities.

    Madden said each state does different things in their prison system, but he wants to ensure Texas is staying on the cutting edge on ideas.

    “We need plenty of space to lock up violent predators, but need to focus on having a place to put drug addicts and alcoholics,” Madden said. “We need to fight crime tough and smart.”

    Madden currently serves as Chairman of the House Committee on Corrections, Co-Chair of the Select Committee on the Operation and Management of the Texas Youth Commission and Chairman of the criminal Justice Legislative Oversight Committee.

    Contact Stephanie Flemmons at;
    sflemmons@acnpapers.com

    Madden


    Drugs, mental health and the justice system
    Gray Panthers meeting seeks to consider the 'root cause' of crime.

    By Patrick George
    AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
    August 18, 2008

    At a forum on the justice system's treatment of mental illness and drug use, defense lawyer Leonard Martinez said Sunday that he wouldn't mind being put out of business if it meant the war on drugs would end.

    Martinez said policies such as mandatory minimum sentencing and hard prison time for drug offenders are too costly to taxpayers and often create devastation in the community.

    "What we need to do is change our attitude," he said. "I have to see the devastation on a daily basis ... to the offender, to victims of the offenses, their families, to the families of the offender."

    The forum by the Gray Panthers of Austin — "Rehabilitation, not incarceration: Funding public services enhances public safety" — included Martinez, two judges and Ben Ogbodiegwu, an advocate for former inmates.

    "This is something we really consider an emerging issue," said David Kobierowski, a member of the Panthers' board of directors. "We're dealing with the symptoms of an issue, which is crime. We need to attack the root cause."

    The audience of about 120 included Austin City Council Member Laura Morrison, Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton and state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin.

    "Prisons and jails are now holding centers and detox centers for persons who abuse substances and are mentally ill," said Bonny Gardner, another member of the Panthers' board of directors.

    "About 40 percent of the inmates at the Travis County Jail had been involved with MHMR" — the Austin Travis County Mental Health Mental Retardation Center, Gardner said.

    The panelists discussed dealing with offenders who have mental health issues.

    Travis County Court-at-Law Judge Nancy Hohengarten praised the county attorney's office for including a mental health prosecutor, who takes into account how mental illness is connected to an offense.

    "That means you have someone who is looking at individuals, who is educated about mental illness, who is looking at them differently than other persons," Hohengarten said.

    District Judge Charlie Baird said about two-thirds of the offenders on his docket are there for alcohol- or drug-related crimes. He said he feels too many of them are being sent to prison, creating an unreasonable burden on taxpayers.

    "We're spending $43,435,000 per year on the Travis County Jail," Baird said. Adding in the $5 million it takes to supply many indigent drug and alcohol offenders with attorneys, "you've just spent $50 million that we're not spending on schools and hospitals and roads and bridges and parks and anything else," he said.

    Probation costs $2.27 a day per offender, versus $45 per day in jail.

    "It's pennies on the dollar," Baird argued.

    pgeorge@statesman.com; 445-3851

    Find this article at:
    Drugs, mental health and the justice system


    Imagining a more effective, and humane, prison system

    July 26th, 2008
    By JOE WINDISH

    Talk Left’s TChris points to Julia Sudbury’s utopian imaginings of a world without prisons before acknowledging our prisons will remain a necessary evil. That said, he launches into a riff on what our criminal justice system absolutely should be:

    Rather than devoting a larger share of our shrinking resources to incarceration, society’s dollars would be better spent on crime prevention.

    Reducing poverty and providing meaningful opportunities for a sound education, affordable housing, and well-paying jobs would help combat the despair and hopelessness that breeds crime. Helping parents learn to raise children in homes that are free from violence would also have a beneficial impact on crime rates.

    These are not easy or inexpensive solutions to implement, but they are more worthy of investment than supermax prisons.

    Reserving incarceration for offenders who pose a true threat would also reduce the harm that imprisonment fosters. Punishment of nonviolent offenders should focus on restitution, rehabilitation, and community supervision, not on deprivation of liberty.

    We need to stop using the criminal justice system to battle social problems like drug abuse and prostitution and public drunkenness.

    Locking people up is a simple-minded response that doesn’t solve the underlying problem, and until the focus of society’s response is on the cause rather than the behavior, recidivism is almost inevitable. If anything, prisons only exacerbate lawlessness by assuring that new offenders are surrounded by veteran criminals who pass along their knowledge of ways to beat society’s rules.

    Finally, to the extent that society needs to incarcerate the incorrigible to protect itself from harm, it has no right to dehumanize the confined.

    If we expect others to be respectful of our rights, we should show them the respect to which all people are entitled. Prisons should protect offenders from rape and intimidation. Prisons should provide decent health care, should screen for and treat mental illness. Prisons should not be warehouses. Prisons should provide opportunities for improvement so that offenders, upon release, will have the tools to change their lives.

    Imagining a more effective


    Texans may want alternatives for non-violent offenders

    The Daily Texan
    www.dailytexanonline.com
    Ryan Penner
    Posted: 6/21/06

    A majority of Texans want alternatives for non-violent drug users, according to a report released Tuesday by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

    The report was issued for the Sunset Advisory Commission, which is scheduled to make policy recommendations for the state Department of Criminal Justice in 2007.

    The coalition conducted an online survey that asked more than 4,000 participants about several issues facing the Texas criminal justice system. Of those surveyed, 96 percent said non-violent drug offenders should be treated outside prison walls, said Ana Yanez- Correa, executive director of the coalition.

    However, the survey sample was not representative of the entire state population, Yanez-Correa said. One overrepresented demographic was college students, which accounted for 37 percent of the respondents, according to the report. The coalition solicited responses through e-mail, and many participants forwarded the survey to their friends, Yanez-Correa said.

    In March, Student Govern-ment approved a referendum asking UT officials to lighten penalties for student marijuana use.

    University students disagreed on the question of what to do with non- violent drug offenders.

    "You have to have a punishment so [the crime] doesn't happen again, but also you should have a way for [offenders] to improve their lives to be better members of society," said Erin Mulvaney, Spanish freshman.

    For some questions on criminal justice issues, the survey provided background information pertaining to those issues. For example, before asking participants whether they believed state funds would be better used in rehabilitation programs rather than for housing inmates, the survey indicated that the state would save between $8,000 and $12,000 for each inmate deferred to a drug treatment program.

    One of the biggest problems with incarcerating non-violent drug offenders is that they often return to drug abuse after being released from prison, said Yanez-Correa. A 2005 report by the Texas Legislative Budget Board showed that 31.5 percent of drug offenders released in 2001 were reincarcerated within three years, compared to an overall recidivism rate of 28.3 percent for all prisoners.

    Though many drug offenders receive probation sentences, long probation terms and high relapse rates for drug addicts contribute to a high number of incarcerations for probationers, Yanez-Correa said. Probationers who are incarcerated for a technical violation, like a failed urine analysis, cost the state more than $200 million per year in inmate housing costs, she added.

    © Copyright 2006 The Daily Texan


    Ten Alternatives To Prison
    Ruth David 04.18.06

    Country singer Johnny Cash immortalized inmates miseries in his classic song "Folsom Prison Blues." But now, as slammers across the country run out of space and resources, prison officials are feeling pretty blue as well.

    Nobody likes these expensive, ugly messes, so why not explore alternate punishments that keep people out of lockup?

    The choices range from probation to public shaming. For drunken driving convictions, some offenders have been made to drive around with signs pasted on the vehicles declaring they've been convicted. Others have been ordered to install Breathalyzer devices that prevent a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

    Legal experts suggest the skills of corporate criminals could be used to offset rising costs in state prisons. "I personally feel we should have a program that lets corporate criminals go to low-income schools and teach," says Stephen Saltzburg, chairman of the American Bar Association's Task Force on Effective Criminal Sanctions. This should be combined with hefty fines for corporate criminals, he says, and schools should seek parents' approval before unleashing criminals on their children in the classroom.

    For minors in danger of landing in prison, there might be no better cure than a heart-to-heart talk with convicts. The In My Shoes program in Chicago tries to ensure these adolescents never need to step into the shoes of those who've walked the road to prison. Prison still seems to be the best bet for violent crimes, defined by the U.S.

    Justice Department as homicide, rape, robbery and assault. And with a prison population of over 2.1 million, the U.S. relies heavily on prison time to punish criminals and prevent crime.

    Of course, the prevention part doesn't seem to be working very well.

    A 2002 federal study tracked inmates for three years after their release from state prisons in 1994 and found that 67% committed a crime within the next three years.

    The Brooklyn, N.Y., district attorney's office is one of the state bodies working on alternatives aimed at reducing high recidivism rates. District Attorney Charles Hynes says the office's star program, Drug Treatment Alternatives-to-Prison, took off after it was redesigned to specifically target second-felony offenders. "When faced with the prospect of mandatory jail time, offenders do not oppose rehab," he says. Statistics show that those who complete the program are three and a half times likelier to get a job than they were before their arrest. And it costs half of what prison time would.

    Several other initiatives targeted at keeping people out of prison or ensuring they don't return are community-based, and this is considered crucial to their success. Assistant District Attorney Ann Swern says community-based efforts have helped slash crime rates in Brooklyn, where index crimes--the FBI's most serious crimes-- declined by 74% since 1990. And thanks to reduced crime, real estate is booming in the area.

    Not everyone is sold on these ideas. Alternatives to prison are workable only in a limited number of cases, and proposed sentences need to adhere to the federal sentencing guidelines, says U.S. District Judge John Keenan. His alternatives usually are community service and probation.

    But in a country with the world's largest prison population, and where some states, like California, are accused of devoting more resources to the upkeep of criminals than on education--alternate punishments are now a question of necessity.

    Click here to see ten alternatives to prison.

    Alternatives To Prison

    1. Drug Treatment Alternatives-To-Prison

    This program, started in October 1990, targets nonviolent drug addicts with previous convictions. Those who qualify enter a guilty plea and get a deferred sentence that allows them to enroll in a residential drug-treatment program, which ranges from 15 to 24 months. Addicts who successfully complete the program have their charges dismissed. But if they don't make it through, they are taken back to court and sentenced to prison time.
    Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, who initiated the project, said its graduates were 87% less likely than others to return to prison. The pioneering initiative is now run in at least 15 counties across New York State.

    2. Faith-Based Rehabilitation Programs
    (InnerChange Freedom Initiative)

    Several states across the country have programs that use religious counselors from the community to help prisoners on their journey out of jail. In 1997, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and Prison Fellowship, an international nonprofit prison ministry, launched what is believed to be the first such comprehensive effort. The program offers education, work, life skills and mentoring, but religious instruction is the crux of the effort. Many of these programs cater to Christian prisoners, but some also include Jews and Muslims.

    3. Pay For Your Prison Stay

    In 1996, jails in Missouri, Connecticut and New Mexico began charging inmates for their room and board. Three years before that, Congress approved legislation to allow the Federal Bureau of Prisons to collect user fees from inmates to cover the cost of their incarceration. Prisoners pay anywhere between $8 and $65 or more for segregated cells and marginally better food and lodging.

    4. The Project For Violence Prevention (Chicago)

    Yes, we spent our childhoods hearing that prevention is better than cure. But physician Gary Slutkin wanted to reiterate that message to high-crime, gang-ridden neighborhoods in Chicago, which has a murder rate approximately four times the national average. Starting in 1995, Slutkin worked with small teams to build on existing alliances in the worst-hit neighborhoods. People who had lived in these neighborhoods formed outreach teams to interact with juveniles in danger of landing in prison. The University of Illinois’ School of Public Health, a violence management team under Slutkin, monitors shootings throughout Chicago on a 24-hour basis. When a shooting is reported, project members from the neighborhood and churches gather at the scene to express their disapproval, through rallies, setting up monuments or prayer services.

    5. Classes And Fees: For The Rich

    This isn’t a reality yet. But how about letting corporate criminals teach in low-income schools? Plenty of them have been educated at the finest of schools, so why should they just sit around gazing out their prison windows on the taxpayers' dime? asks Stephen Saltzburg, chairman of the American Bar Association’s Task Force on Effective Criminal Sanctions. Of course unlike regular teachers, participants in this program would be escorted to school and back to ensure they don't skip class.

    6. Ignition Interlocks

    Judges in states including Maryland and California have made drunken drivers install Breathalyzer devices in their vehicles. The ignition interlocks prevent the vehicle from starting until the driver blows into the mouthpiece, and the device confirms he or she hasn't been drinking.

    7. Live In Slummy Buildings

    In February 1988, a Brooklyn, N.Y., landlord found guilty of keeping his tenants in appalling conditions was sentenced to spend 15 days in his building, in the freezing cold and alongside leaky pipes and rats. He had to wear an electronic ankle cuff that ensured he didn't stray beyond a 100-foot radius. The sentence was later popularized in a 1991 motion picture, The Super. Today, such sentences are not unusual across the country.

    8. Chemical Castration

    In 1996, California became the first state to pass a law requiring chemical castration for repeat child molesters. The procedure is noninvasive and reversible. Offenders are usually injected once every three months with a drug called Depo-Provera, which inhibits hormones that stimulate the production of testosterone, eliminating sex drive. Once offenders stop taking the drug, their sex drive returns to normal. At least nine states, including Florida, Georgia, Oregon and Texas, now have chemical castration laws in place.

    9. Abolish Prisons! Invest The Money In People

    It may sound like a radical idea. But locking people up in cages doesn't make society safer, says Rose Braz, director of Critical Resistance, a national grassroots group that works to abolish prisons. So why not try something different? "Our goal is to create safer communities. The way to do that is for the government to invest in housing, education and job training. We know that communities where these needs are met have lower crime rates," says Rose.

    The Restorative Justice program, a community-based program run by the Department of Corrections in Minnesota, actively involves the victim in the deciding an aggressor’s punishment. The program works with trained mediators to facilitate meetings between the victim and aggressor, and gives offenders a chance to voluntarily apologize and explain their actions. Reparation can take the form of financial payments, going to work for the victim or community service. Restorative Justice programs rely largely on voluntary cooperation from all those involved in a crime. If neither party is willing, formal justice takes its course.

    10. The Billboard Project

    This isn’t the kind of billboard fame you’d want to court. In a bid to shame men into staying away from prostitutes, an association in Omaha, Neb., began a project to put their names and faces on billboards. In October 2003, the first of its kind billboard went up, warning men that if they were convicted of soliciting prostitutes, they would see their names on the board. The community-based initiative began with a grant of $2,500 from a neighborhood group.


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