The Texas state jail system was designed in the mid-nineties to offer a place between county lock-ups and state prison, somewhere to send low-level offenders without the risk of institutionalizing them for life, a place for them to get treatment and rehabilitation. But, the expensive middle-ground of incarceration is failing.
According to the Statesman, the recidivism rate for inmates coming out of state jails is actually higher than for those coming out of prisons. This is exactly the opposite of what the people were promised when these jails were started.
They were created for drug offenders, petty burglars, thieves, and others whose crimes didn’t warrant “hard time” but could possibly be benefitted by a more rehabilitative model. Now, however, they are just like prisons—or maybe even worse.
The state jails now hold more “regular prison felons” than state jail felons, due to overcrowding and the shutting down of some prisons. In addition, they have fewer treatment and rehabilitation programs than they did in the beginning.
Back then, when they started, state jail felons weren’t called inmates, they wore different colored jumpsuits, the buildings of state jails were constructed differently than prisons, and a separate state department was charged with their supervision. Not so anymore.
“You might ask yourself why we still need them,” said Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) who was one of the lawmakers who initially spearheaded the state jail system.
“I don’t think we ought to do away with state jails, but I don’t think it’s practical to go back to the original concept either,” he said.
Like others, Whitmire says the value of treatment and rehabilitation is too important to go back to the old ways of doing things. But, if these methods aren’t working to reduce recidivism, what’s the purpose?
“It appears we have better treatment programs now in many of our prisons than we do in our state jails. How ironic is that?” the senator asked.
Lawmakers are addressing this question and discussing possible changes to the current system including possibly restarting alcohol and drug treatment programs within the state jails, having state jail felons start out with community supervision rather than incarceration, and possibly offering post-release aftercare, like parole.
Other states like California have found obvious and significant savings in managing non-violent offenders through their probation department and not the jail system.
Criminal justice priorities change over the years. Still, despite the ongoing state jail failures, there are some successes in the system. If you are facing criminal charges, you may be able to take advantage of them. State drug courts, for instance, are a valuable asset for everyone involved.
If you are accused of a drug crime or other offense, contact us today to discuss your legal options and how we might be able to help.