According to a recent report from the Houston Chronicle, Texas lawmakers took a significant step in the right direction when Governor Rick Perry signed the Texas Youth Commission reform bill. It passed unanimously in the state senate, and with only two dissenting votes in the house, showing a unified sentiment by both parties that criminal justice reform is a priority. (Right On Crime previously discussed the legislation here.)
The legislation will reorganize several commissions into a single Texas Juvenile Justice Commission, shift available funds to rehabilitation programs, and close 30% of the state’s youth prisons. Current estimates place the expected savings from the bill at $150 million. Moreover, the advocates emphasized the societal benefits of such reforms. Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston), the bill’s sponsor, said “If you lock up kids and don’t deal with the root causes, they are going to re-offend.” Texas Public Policy Foundation Board Member Tim Dunn similarly said “It is not in our best interest to take someone who is a productive member of society and train them to be a hardened criminal. It’s morally stupid.”
Texas has seen fiscal and substantive improvements with similar initiatives. In 2007, Whitmire helped to save the state $300 million by advocating better probation and rehabilitation programs instead of building new prisons. Since 2007, parole revocations have dropped 40%. In 2006, Texas held 5,000 juveniles in custody, while today that number is down to 1,400, and the youth crime rate has fallen.