e-Texas e-Texassmaller smarter faster governmentDecember, 2000
Carole Keeton Rylander
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

Recommendations of the Texas Comptroller

Chapter 11: Public Safety and Corrections

Public Safety and Corrections


Texas has seen dramatic improvements in public safety in recent years. In 1991, Texas was regarded as one of America’s most dangerous states. In fact, Austin, Dallas, El Paso, Fort Worth, Houston and San Antonio were ranked among the 14 most crime-ridden cities in the US. Currently, Dallas ranks as the 25th most dangerous city in the US, Houston as the 70th and Fort Worth as the 97th. As a state, Texas is ranked as the 17th most dangerous state, down from number three in 1994. Texas’ annual number of criminal offenses has fallen by 26 percent in the last eight years.

Nevertheless, with its prison population at an all-time high—and projected to grow considerably more—and with little desire to begin another prison building boom, Texas must look to some new approaches in public safety and corrections. The overarching goal should be crime reduction, not simply increased incarceration.

Ensure that Released Inmates Become Productive, Law-Abiding Citizens

To deter crime in the most effective way possible, our prisons must prepare inmates to reintegrate successfully into society if crime rates are to continue to fall. Texas should expand the use of proven reintegration methods for released inmates, and ensure adequate and effective substance abuse treatment for probationers and parolees.

The Prison Industry Enhancement (PIE) program in Texas allows private industries to establish joint ventures with public agencies to use inmate labor in producing goods for entry into interstate commerce. Inmates participating in the program work in environments that simulate private workplaces, demonstrating the value of hard work and teaching marketable skills that increase their potential for successful reintegration into society upon release. The PIE program has proven to be an exceptional way to cut prison costs, reduce recidivism, and reintegrate released felons into communities.

PIE currently employs 222 inmates and has accounted for over $2.2 million dollars to General Revenue since its certification in 1993. This number, however, could be greatly increased with a concerted effort to expand PIE and increase the amount PIE inmates pay toward their room and board. Moreover, the state should create a funding mechanism for future PIE facility construction.

To Ensure Adequate Prison Space for Violent Criminals, Explore
Alternatives to Incarceration for Some Nonviolent Criminals

Texas’ prisons are at or near capacity, and they impose a tremendous cost on Texas taxpayers. Violent and dangerous criminals must be imprisoned, but many cities and states are adopting alternatives to incarceration for some nonviolent offenders. The goal is two-fold: first, to free prison space for violent criminals; and second, to increase the chances for successful rehabilitation of substance-abuse addicts, thereby lowering their recidivism rates.

Several states have opted to fund substance abuse treatment as an alternative to prison. Kings County, N.Y., reports that the recidivism rate for Brooklyn’s Drug Treatment Alternative-To-Prison program graduates is less than half that for comparable defendants who went to prison for drug-related crimes.

Alternative placements for some nonviolent offenders could ease the state’s overtaxed correctional system and provide much-needed space for violent criminals. Cutting down on the interaction between these nonviolent offenders and hardened criminals, furthermore, will give the former a better chance to reform and lead productive lives. Alternative sanctions, coupled with preventative programs, can reduce Texas’ number of felons and the enormous costs of incarceration.

One growing and effective alternative to incarceration are drug courts which are special judicial proceedings generally used only for nonviolent drug offenders. Typically, the consequences of participation in a drug court include monitoring by the judge, weekly supervision by probation officers, daily drug tests and treatment sessions. If participants fail to comply with the program requirements, they can receive additional sanctions including more intensive treatment services, more frequent urinalysis, community service and incarceration.

The United States now has more than 455 drug courts that have been widely cited as a step forward in the fight against drug-related crime. Texas has five operating drug courts in Dallas, Jefferson, Montgomery, Tarrant and Travis counties. Webb County is in the final planning stages for a drug court that will target individuals on probation. The state should expand the number of drug courts and expand the capacity of existing drug courts.

Move Certain Elderly and Seriously Ill Texas Prisoners to
Alternative Settings

Health care costs are considerably higher for aging inmates and inmates with significant medical problems. More Texas prisons will need to be remodeled to care for the growing elderly and sick inmate population.

One option for some of these inmates is incarceration in alternative facilities, such as nursing homes designed to serve an inmate population. Federal funds could defray most of these nursing home costs. Inmates who qualify for release on special needs parole then can apply for federal entitlement benefits including food stamps, Social Security income, Social Security disability income, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, veteran’s benefits, and Medicaid and Medicare payments.

The state should identify nonviolent inmates with the most significant medical problems and include them in the pool of eligible inmates for Special Needs Parole and establish secure nursing homes exclusively for ill inmates in urban areas.

Do More to Combat Drunk Driving

After larceny and theft, driving while intoxicated (DWI) or under the influence of drugs (DUI) is the most frequently committed crime in America. By some estimates, the cost of drunk driving, which is often a chronic crime, exceeds $110 billion a year, and a drunk driver kills someone in the US every 33 minutes. Texas should strengthen its DWI laws.

e-Texas is an initiative of Carole Keeton Rylander, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Post Office Box 13528, Capitol Station
Austin, Texas

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