Criminal Justice Reform 101 – Feb. 11th – State Capitol Bldg in Austin

If you live in the Austin area you are welcome to attend this legislative briefing on criminal justice reform. It will be co-hosted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, the Texas Probation Association and the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

Here are the details:

What: Legislative Briefing for lawmakers, staff, media, activists and the public

Where: State Capitol building, Capitol Grill banquet room

When: Monday, Feb. 11th, 2013 from 9:00am until 11:00am

Why: To brief audience members on cost effective solutions to criminal justice problems


9:00 am

Breakfast and General Reception

9:10 am

Welcome and Opening Remarks

  • Dr. Ana Yáñez-Correa, Executive Director, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition
  • Marc Levin, Director, Center for Effective Justice, Texas Public Policy Foundation
  • Dr. Michael Noyes, Director, Dallas County CSCD; Co-Chair, Texas Probation Association – Adult Legislative Committee

9:15 am

“Smart-on-Crime” Film Screening

9:25 am

Breaking the Cycle of Crime Without Breaking the Bank

  • Dr. Ana Yáñez-Correa

9:45 am

Conservatives on Criminal Justice

  • Marc Levin

10:05 am

The Role of the CSCD (Adult Probation Department) within the Texas Criminal Justice System

  • Dr. Michael Noyes

10:25 am

Question and Answer Period

10:55 am

Closing Remarks


Former Texas House Corrections Chairman Jerry Madden Joins Right on Crime as Senior Fellow

AUSTIN – The Right on Crime campaign is excited to announce the newest member of its team, former Texas House Corrections Chairman Jerry Madden (R-Plano). Madden served 20 years in the Texas House of Representatives and was the leading legislator on criminal justice reform during his tenure.

Madden’s innovative ideas on sentencing and corrections helped to transform Texas’ criminal justice system, contributing to lower crime rates and reduced recidivism at a lower cost to taxpayers. He now joins the Right on Crime team as a Senior Fellow and will be spreading the message of the Texas model and the need for cost-effective policy solutions that enhance public safety throughout the country.

Right on Crime is a national campaign of the Texas Public Policy Foundation that supports fighting crime, prioritizing victims and protecting taxpayers. It was founded in 2010 in order to increase public awareness of the truly conservative stance on criminal justice policy, based on values such as limited government, fiscal discipline, and personal responsibility. National conservative leaders such as tax activist Grover Norquist, former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former Attorney General Ed Meese, and former federal “drug czar” Bill Bennett are among those who have signed the Right on Crime Statement of Principles.

Foundation President and CEO Brooke Rollins said, “We are proud of the work on criminal justice reform that Chairman Madden did when he was in the Texas Legislature. He shepherded important reforms into law that have led to a reduction in the prison population and most importantly a safer Texas. These are exactly the types of reforms that we need around the country, and we are happy to have Chairman Madden on board to spread the word for Right on Crime.”

We are thrilled to have such a great leader on state criminal justice reform as Chairman Madden. He will be a huge asset when it comes to explaining to policy makers and media around the country how to implement smart criminal justice reform based on conservative principles,” said Marc Levin, Director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

The implementation of Right on Crime’s principles has seen successes throughout the country, especially in Texas under Madden’s leadership. The Texas reforms, which occurred over the past eight years, have helped reduce the number of new crimes by those on parole by 11.9 percent, and cut the overall crime rate in Texas to its lowest level since 1968. At the same time, the state has avoided spending nearly $2 billion in projected prison costs. The strong results and bipartisan approach are among the reasons Governing Magazine named Madden a Public Official of the Year in 2010.

Madden is an engineer by training and graduated from The United States Military Academy at West Point. He received his Master of Information Science degree from the University of Texas at Dallas. Madden was recognized by the American Legislative Exchange Council as “Legislator of the Year” in 2011. That year, he also was recognized by Texans for Fiscal Responsibility as a Taxpayer Advocate. Madden has received a Distinguished Service Award from The Council of State Governments, which is awarded to outstanding individuals and organizations who have demonstrated a sustained commitment to advancing excellence in state government.

Brooke Rollins is President and CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Marc Levin is Director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Right on Crime is a national campaign that supports fighting crime, prioritizing victims and protecting taxpayers.

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“Mental Health is a Huge Issue” in Georgia Justice Strategies

Note: This item has also been posted on the Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s website here.

Discussion about mental health and other substance abuse treatment alternatives was front and center Wednesday when criminal justice system officials addressed House and Senate joint appropriations lawmakers at the State Capitol.  “Mental health is a huge issue in all the things we do,” Judge Robin W. Shearer said on behalf of the Council of Juvenile Court Judges.

Georgia is in the early stages of significant adult and juvenile justice system reforms that focus on how to ensure incarceration for the most serious offenders, and how to provide community treatment options for offenders who do not benefit from or even require incarceration.

Last year the General Assembly passed reforms to move the adult corrections system toward those goals.   This year legislators are expected to approve sweeping reforms to juvenile criminal law and the civil code.  Governor Nathan Deal has made reforms a personal priority and his budget devotes millions of dollars to these goals.

The importance of mental health considerations was evident early in Wednesday’s hearing.

Adult corrections commissioner Brian Owens said the state has opened alternative treatment centers in seven rural judicial circuits and this year plans to open four-to-seven more.  Two facilities were opened to treat “dually diagnosed offenders”; Owens described them as persons with mental illness who attempt to medicate themselves with legal prescriptions or illegal drugs.  The state has also opened a new residential substance abuse treatment center for males.

These options give the state capability to treat about 5,000 non-violent offenders per year in community settings rather than prisons.  “Georgia, I believe, is really at the forefront of dealing with criminal addiction (and) criminal mental health issues,” Owens said, “applying mental health resources in the community before offenders get too far down the road and we suffer a tragedy.”

Governor Deal’s Fiscal 2014 budget contains $11.6 million for the continued expansion of drug and mental health accountability courts for non-violent offenders who need community-based treatment more than they need incarceration; this builds on $10 million that Deal inserted for the same purpose into the Fiscal 2013 budget.   Next year’s proposed budget also contains a $5 million line item to create incentives to start community-based juvenile treatment options.

That is good news for juvenile judges.  “I welcome prevention dollars,” said Judge Shearer, who is president of the Georgia Council of Juvenile Court Judges and has been a juvenile court judge since 1993.  Shearer said, “The pendulum of whether we emphasize prevention or penalties kind of swings back and forth.  A prevention dollar is a dollar well spent.”  Shearer noted, “We are seeing children from birth until they become adults.”

By the numbers, the state adult corrections system has some 57,500 inmates and 162,600 on felony probation.  The budget is about $1.1 billion per year to support adult corrections.  The annual per bed cost for an adult inmate is about $18,000, but that cost increases for older inmates who require more advanced health care.

This week the juvenile justice system, a separate entity, had 1,741 in secure confinement and 11,941 on community supervision.  The juvenile justice department budget is $300 million. DJJ makes contact with about 52,000 juveniles per calendar year.  The annual per bed cost for a committed juvenile is above $90,000, higher than adult incarceration cost for many reasons including, DJJ operates its own school system.

Those financial numbers do not tell a complete story.  State pardons and paroles has a budget near $53 million.  Juvenile system officials, including the juvenile courts, interact with many other state agencies, making it hard to determine exactly what the state directly spends on juveniles and their justice issues.  The state easily spends $1.4 billion annually on adult and juvenile justice without factoring in even one cent of what it costs to run state and local courts.

Proposals from the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform — for adults and juveniles — focus on how to protect the public, reduce public expense and reduce recidivism, which is the percentage of juveniles who are re-adjudicated or adults convicted of a criminal offense within three years of their release.  More than 50 percent of juveniles re-enter the justice system within three years and more than 30 percent of adults re-offend.

Owens said the number of state inmates being held in county jails is significantly down.  Twelve months ago county jails held 900 males waiting for placement in a probation detention center.  Today there are no males and about 200 females.  That is important to local governments because the state does not reimburse counties for inmates who are waiting for probation detention center placement. “Our counties will save money,” Owens said.

Juvenile justice commissioner Avery Niles told legislators, “We have become an agency that deals with both youths and adults in a juvenile setting.”  Niles was DJJ board chairman until two months ago when Governor Deal moved him to the commissioner’s office.  Niles said that about half of juveniles who enter the corrections system have drug addictions.  He described the overall population as “older, more aggressive and staying longer.”  Ninety percent of youths in DJJ custody are now designated felons.


West Virginia Analyzing Reform Research

As the law currently stands, West Virginia will be asked to come up with $340 million dollars between 2014 and 2018, all to handle an increased prison population.

Fortunately, West Virginia officials are seeking to avoid these costs with smart-on-crime reforms that will stymie the increase in prison populations while better protecting the public safety.

Those reforms include a research-based risk and needs assessment that felons will undergo prior to sentencing. This assessment will provide necessary information to the judge that will aid in sentencing offenders to the most effective placements. In fact, the Supreme Court is administratively implementing these assessments in West Virginia this year.

Other reforms include an increased investment in substance abuse and addiction treatments. In West Virginia, as elsewhere, substance abuse issues often underlie criminal behavior. In those cases, attacking the substance addiction can halt future criminality far more cheaply and effectively than a mere prison sentence.

In addition to more effective probation, these proposals are positioned to prevent West Virginia from being forced to raid taxpayer’s wallets for an additional $340 million.


Engulfed by Environmental Crimes

The Texas Public Policy Foundation recently released a report on overcriminalization which I co-authored with my Right On Crime colleague, Marc Levin. The report, titled Engulfed by Environmental Crimes: Overcriminalizaton on the Gulf Coast, has received some attention across the internet after being the subject of features on and The Washington Examiner.

In the report, we argue:

“’Ground zero’ for state-level overcriminalization may well be the United States Gulf Coast.  Five U.S. states border the Gulf of Mexico—Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida—and between them, they have passed nearly 1,000 laws criminalizing activity along the coast. Criminal sanctions are of course appropriately applied to an individual who intentionally contaminates another person’s property. Too often, however, the activity that is governed by these myriad laws is non-blameworthy, ordinary business activity.”

We offer five recommendations to address the problem. First and foremost, we advise that states review their environmental regulations to determine whether criminal sanctions—in particular, prison—are appropriate. As former Texas state representative Jerry Madden says, ‘prisons are people we’re scared of, not people we’re mad at.’

Second, we advise states to strengthen the mens rea elements in their environmental criminal statutes. In environmental criminal prosecutions, offenders frequently lack the state of mind that would be necessary to convict for a traditional crime.

Third, we urge states to codify the rule of lenity and ensure that it is applied in environmental criminal cases. The rule of lenity is the canon of construction advising that vague criminal statutes be construed against the government and in favor of the defendant. It places a burden upon legislators to draft statutes as precisely as possible.

Fourth, we advise eliminating provisions that delegate to agencies the power to create new criminal offenses through rulemaking.

Finally, we encourage the adoption of safe harbor provisions. These provisions protect offenders from penalties if no harm has been done and the offender promptly acts to come into compliance.

The report is not limited to an abstract public policy discussion. In an appendix, the report documents several notorious incidents of overcriminalization throughout the Gulf states.