Since kicking off a nationwide wave of state criminal justice reforms almost a decade ago, Texas has taken additional steps to provide taxpayers with a better return on their corrections spending. In 2015, Governor Greg Abbott signed legislation to restructure criminal penalties for certain property crimes (H.B. 1546) and encourage the use of evidence-based prison programs to lower recidivism rates of offenders (H.B. 1396).
The state also made significant changes to its juvenile justice system. One new law (H.B. 2398) decriminalizes truancy, and another (S.B. 1630) diverts lower-level youth offenders from state facilities to regional placements closer to their families. These policies are expected to reduce the state’s youth offender population, producing savings that can be invested in proven programs to reduce recidivism.
Criminalizing unauthorized absences at school unnecessarily jeopardizes the futures of our studentsGovernor Greg Abbott (R)
Texas began reforming its sentencing and corrections policies in 2007, when lawmakers faced steep prison growth projections and reports of abuse in its juvenile justice facilities. To improve the criminal system, lawmakers passed H.B. 1, investing $241 million over two years in an array of evidence-based strategies to reduce recidivism, including drug courts, swift and graduated sanctions for offenders who break the rules of their release, and incentives to promote compliance with the terms of probation. Since then, the state’s rate of parole revocations—the rate at which paroled offenders violate the rules and are returned to prison—has dropped 46 percent, and the overall crime rate in Texas is at its lowest since 1968. The reforms have also helped avert more than $3 billion in anticipated prison spending.
For the juvenile system, S.B. 103 prioritized space in Texas’ youth corrections facilities for high-risk offenders and invested the savings from reduced incarceration in effective community alternatives for less-serious offenders. In subsequent budget cycles, lawmakers allocated $57.8 million (2007), $45.7 million (2009), and $39 million (2011) for local evidence-based programs. From 2007 to 2012, the state cut youth arrests by 33 percent and the number of juveniles in secure state facilities by 65 percent, reduced spending by hundreds of millions of dollars, and reinvested much of the savings in juvenile probation.
The Council of State Governments provided technical assistance on both sets of reforms in 2007.