Public to Help Re-Imagine Texas Criminal Justice System Today
AUSTIN, Texas - Texans today have a rare opportunity to help shape the future of the state's $4-billion-a-year criminal justice system. Agencies get a full "sunset review" every 12 years. Recommendations are then sent to lawmakers. Faith leaders, prisoner advocates and correctional workers will be among those responding to a staff report by the Sunset Advisory Commission during an all-day hearing at the Capitol.
Criminal-justice expert Ana Yáñez-Correa says, with more than 90 percent of Texas prisoners likely to rejoin society, the Department of Criminal Justice needs to improve the culture and conditions inside correctional institutions.
"We're talking about them really embracing a very important component of their mission statement, which is rehabilitating individuals, not just retaining them - because these people will come out."
The next Legislature, she says, will have to weigh spending a little more up front against higher long-term costs and decreased public safety, if the state's criminal-justice system is not improved.
After conducting surveys with prison employees, prisoners and prisoner families, Yáñez-Correa's group, the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC), is submitting more than 90 recommendations to the Commission, many having to do with improving training, resources, and pay for correctional officers.
"The very same conditions that people who are behind bars endure, correctional officers have to endure as well. And they're the ones who have the most day-to-day interaction in terms of the rehabilitation of people who are in prison."
The surveys found that more than 70 percent of prisoners reported problems ranging from racism and abuse by staff to lack of adequate heating and air conditioning. Correctional officers, meanwhile, reported widespread job dissatisfaction, reflecting chronic employee-retention problems at multiple facilities.
The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition also is offering suggestions for improving re-entry and parole. With more than half of Texas inmates incarcerated for nonviolent, non-sex crimes, Yáñez-Correa says society has an interest in improving their chances of success after release.
"So that they can contribute to the economy, so that they can afford to pay child support, so that they can be the parents that they need to be to their children."
Re-entry planning, she says, could better target the educational and therapeutic needs of individuals. She praises Commission members for their independence and openness, but she wants sunset reviews to occur more frequently.
Today's entire meeting can be seen live on the state's Sunset Commission website, www.sunset.state.tx.us.
The hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m., Senate Finance Committee Room E1.036.
See TCJC survey reports at bit.ly/Ka0Lvc.