|Chapter 12 | ...in 2010 | Endnotes|
A Safer Texas
Elvis Jackson leaves his cell at Lockhart’s Wackenhut Correctional Facility every morning, passes out the prison’s backdoor, through a chain-link fenced walkway, and enters the clean, orderly, air-conditioned facilities of LTI, Inc., a private-sector company operating on the prison grounds. There, he spends his day assembling sophisticated computer circuitry and electronic cabling. The company, in turn, trains him and pays him for his work at local prevailing wages.
The circuit boards Mr. Jackson builds and tests for quality are computer voice systems. They are embedded in high tech mannequins used to train physicians and medical students in effective diagnostic questioning of patients. Asked about his job, Jackson says, “I never thought I would be able to do this kind of work because it is too technical. It makes me feel good to know I’m doing something good, and it’s improved my job prospects.” 
Blaine Nabors, recently released from the Lockhart Wackenhut Correctional Facility, was one of Jackson’s co-workers. He managed purchasing for LTI operations at the prison and now works for LTI in the outside world. Nabors says the Lockhart job gave him hands-on training he could never have acquired previously in the outside world. “This job has given a lot of people back their self worth—it’s a feeling that they are doing something worthwhile,” Nabors explains. “I understand profit and loss now.” Nabors and Jackson are former and current participants, respectively, in the federal Prison Industry Enhancement program (PIE) which 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, as operated at Lockhart and many other facilities throughout the nation, has proven to be an exceptional way to cut prison costs, reduce recidivism, and reintegrate released felons into communities.
“[The PIE program] has given me job skills I didn’t have before and built my confidence and self-esteem up” says inmate Richard Hilcher. “Once I am out [of prison], instead of being a burden to society, I will be an asset.”
Inmates working in the program earn private-sector prevailing wages. PIE guidelines, however, allow participating inmates to apply up to 80 percent of their earnings to defray the cost of their incarceration, provide restitution for their victims, pay child and family support, and income and social security taxes. Participants also make deposits to an interest-bearing savings account. “Now I am able to partially take the burden off society by paying for part of my incarceration,” says inmate Mark Conner, another PIE participant. “I can also say I am a taxpayer, which means a lot.”
Since PIE’s creation in 1979, state and local governments have established 159 prison and private-sector “joint ventures” which currently employ over 3,500 inmates. These programs have produced more than $126 million in inmate gross wages, with more than $61 million being paid by inmates to cover their room and board, victim restitution, family support, and taxes.
“No public safety program in Texas has shown more promise than the PIE program,” says State Representative Ray Allen, a big proponent of the PIE program in Texas since its inception. “It is both good for the taxpayers of Texas and it is good for the crime victims. But even more important, nothing is more ennobling, empowering, rehabilitative to prisoners than teaching them how to work in a free society.”
Darryl Andersen, the Warden at Lockhart, echoes Representative Allen in this assessment: “PIE and other programs like it are the kinds of programs that will change our corrections system.” Andersen is right. The principles that embody the PIE program—rehabilitation, restitution, public-private partnerships and personal responsibility—are the principles that should guide the evolution of Texas’ corrections system over the next decade.
Strategies in Brief
Society must attack crime where it breeds—troubled children—and find ways to stop them from beginning a life of crime. Prisons should be held accountable for the successful reintegration of released inmates into society.
Texas’ prisons are at or near capacity, and they impose a tremendous cost on Texas taxpayers. Violent and dangerous criminals must be imprisoned, but this effort will be hindered if our prison space is not used in the most intelligent way possible.
As inmate rolls reach all-time highs across America, many cities and states are adopting alternatives to incarceration for some nonviolent offenders. The goal is two-fold: first, to free up prison space for murderers, armed robbers, rapists, and other violent criminals; and second, to increase the chances for successful rehabilitation of substance-abuse addicts, thereby lowering their recidivism rates.
In Texas, an estimated 21.7 percent of prison inmates, or 28,083 out of a total of 129,720, were in prison in 1998 for drug-offenses. A decade earlier, drug offenses accounted for 11.2 percent of prisoners, or 4,351 Texans out of a total prison population of 38,952 (see Figure 12-3).
Several states have opted to fund substance abuse treatment as an alternative to prison. Wisconsin allows judges to order felony drug offenders with no weapons violation or previous record to receive treatment, attend classes, and obtain job and parental counseling instead of going to prison. In New York, Brooklyn’s Drug Treatment Alternative-to-Prison program has operated for nine years with a high rate of success. The recidivism rate for program graduates is less than half that for comparable defendants who went to prison for drug-related crimes.
Florida has developed what may be the nation’s most ambitious long-range plan to reduce its prison population by requesting $358 million in state funds for substance abuse treatment for adults and drug-addicted babies, drug courts, drug law enforcement units, additional state attorneys and prosecutors, and an anti-tobacco campaign aimed at youths.
Alternative placements for some nonviolent offenders could ease the state’s overtaxed correctional system and provide much-needed space for violent and hardened 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.
A report from the Manhattan Institute concludes that “states seeking to maximize the benefits of current prison space should reexamine the policy of imprisoning drug-only offenders.” The study argues that imprisoning large numbers of drug offenders simply isn’t cost-effective, and that some beds occupied by drug offenders would be better used for violent and repeat offenders.
In Texas, the average annual cost of drug courts, including treatment and supervision, is $3,500 per participant. Texans convicted of nonviolent drug offenses in counties without a drug court often are charged with a state jail felony offense and, if convicted, generally serve their sentences in TDCJ’s State Jail Division. Texas’ average annual cost for incarcerating State Jail inmates was $11,340 in 1998.
The number of drug courts in Texas should be expanded. State law should be amended to provide statutory framework and set definitive regulations regarding the operation of drug courts. Within such regulations, a task force should be appointed to review existing drug courts and make recommendations for new programs by identifying areas of the state that would most benefit from new drug court programs and assist those areas with planning and implementation. Finally, state funding should be provided to existing drug courts for the continuance and expansion of such programs.
In 1999, Texas prisons contained 5,498 inmates aged 55 or over. From 1998 to 2008, this group is expected to rise by 122 percent.
The average health care cost for the aging prison population was $14.80 a day in fiscal 1998, about three times more than for younger offenders. Health care costs also are considerably higher for inmates with significant medical problems such as Hepatitis C, HIV, and full-blown AIDS.
Many more Texas prisons will need to be remodeled to care for the growing elderly and sick inmate population. One alternative 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.
A half-dozen states including Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Alabama recently have opened special prisons for elderly inmates. Several of these new prisons were converted from state mental hospitals. The Connecticut Department of Corrections plans to establish a hospice program within one of its male inmate facilities. The hospice team will coordinate activities intended to enhance the quality of life for dying inmates.
TDCJ and the Texas Council on Offenders with Mental Impairments (TCOMI), the agency responsible for administering the Special Needs Parole program, should transfer more nonviolent offenders with significant health problems to an alternative long-term care facility could ease the overcrowding in prisons that is likely to occur over the next ten years.
Since most prison inmates are from the state’s urban areas, they would benefit from placement in an urban facility near family members and medical facilities. Texas Department of Human Services (DHS) should determine the level of security that these nursing homes can have without jeopardizing Medicaid or Medicare dollars. DHS also should consider what electronic monitoring devices could be used on this population.
To deter crime in the most effective way possible, our prisons must be more than human warehouses. Most inmates rejoin society sooner or later, and they must be reintegrated successfully if crime rates are to continue to fall.
Programs such as the PIE program save taxpayer money while cutting recidivism rates and crime. Successful in-prison vocational and treatment programs should be expanded, while failing programs should be eliminated.
The PIE program in Texas currently employs roughly 200 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. A full-time position should be established to court private business and make recommendations for PIE expansion. Additionally, a funding pool for future PIE facility construction should be created.
Private industry should be courted with an emphasis on the positives of the PIE program, such as a reliable workforce with no absenteeism. Moreover, the deduction from the salary for incarceration costs should be substantially increased from the maximum of 35 percent.
Research shows that the success of correctional drug treatment programs depends upon a seamless transition to effective post-release treatment. A minimum of six to 12 months of aftercare is strongly recommended to maximize treatment outcomes.
According to Ann Jacobs, director of the Women’s Prison Association, children with incarcerated parents are five times more likely to be jailed; one in ten will be jailed before adulthood. Juvenile delinquents must not only be punished, they must learn to avoid crime. At-risk youth need safe and caring places of refuge that allow them to develop into healthy members of the community.
State policymakers have recognized the need for early intervention. In 1999, Texas allocated more than $10 million in state funds to 71 school districts for after-school programs designed to reduce middle-school student involvement in criminal and other risky behavior. The school districts chosen serve students in areas with a high incidence of juvenile crime as determined by the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council.
In addition, in September 1997, Texas Governor George W. Bush launched a major statewide initiative to improve the lives of Texas’ young people. This initiative, “The Texas Pledge—Keeping America’s Promise,” is led by the Texas Commission on Volunteerism and Community Service. The Texas Pledge builds alliances between private, public, and nonprofit sectors; identifies and pursues statewide resources; initiates public information campaigns; coordinates statewide summits; promotes youth leadership and service; and provides resources to communities that are working to provide such resources. The Texas Pledge has received many donations and volunteer hours to further its cause.
Tom Green County Assistant District Attorney Claire Noelke told an e-Texas hearing in San Angelo that today’s youth need mentoring, greater parental accountability and extracurricular activities. “Youth centers provide a safe place for children. [They] are provided with structured activities and with adults who care about them,” says Noelke.
Children’s community programs also can lower juvenile delinquency rates by giving at-risk youth safe and educational places to gather. “We’re out there trying to save lives and point kids in the right direction,” says Jose Mata, Southside unit director for Boys and Girls Club of San Angelo.
After larceny and theft, driving while intoxicated (DWI) or under the influence of drugs (DUI) is the most frequently committed crime in America. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, one out of every 127 licensed drivers in the US was arrested for drunk driving in 1994. In 1997, 1.4 million drivers in the United States were arrested for DWI or DUI and 513,200 were placed in jail or on probation.
By some estimates, the cost of drunk driving exceeds $110 billion a year. A drunk driver kills someone in the US every 33 minutes. Such dismal statistics have prompted many states to combat this senseless waste of life.
Several states have launched innovative programs to bring down high DWI rates. In Georgia, for instance, state law requires that those convicted of driving while intoxicated must have their pictures and names published in their local newspapers—and pay the cost of the ad. Hawaii, Illinois, and Vermont are the only three states in the nation that require hospitals to report blood alcohol test results to the local police, an effort intended to increase the reporting of drunk-driving offenses. New York is the only state with a completely self-sufficient DWI/DUI program; all fines and fees collected from drunk driving cases are returned to local units of government to pay for DWI law enforcement and the prosecution and treatment of DWI offenders.
Far too often, children are the innocent victims of intoxicated drivers since vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children under 15. A growing number of states including California, Connecticut, and Iowa are enacting DWI/child endangerment laws that impose stiff penalties and fines on anyone who drives drunk with a child in the car.
Disturbingly, drunk driving often is a chronic crime. A third of all drunk drivers arrested in the US in 1996 were repeat offenders. Twenty-four states have passed habitual DWI offender laws in recent years.
State law should be amended to prohibit open containers of alcoholic beverages in the passenger area of motor vehicles and to create a repeat DWI offender law for second and subsequent DWI offenses that meets federal guidelines.