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Window on State Government


July 20, 2000

Full e-Texas Commission Meeting

Executive Summary

Findings and preliminary recommendations from three task forces—Public Safety and Corrections, Local Government Empowerment, and Regulatory Reform—were presented to the Commissioners. Guest speakers made presentations on the Texas Prison Industries Enhancement (PIE) program, a pilot project for electronic building permits in Silicon Valley, and Internet regulation.

commissioners hear testimony
Commissioner Elizabeth Lang-Miers, Commissioner Bill Hammond, Comptroller Rylander, Commissioner Kevin Eltife with Warden Daryl Anderson of Lockhart Correctional Facility and PIE participants Mark Anthony Conner and Richard Hilcher in foreground


Public Safety and Corrections Team

Ms. Lang-Miers presented the task force report. There have been fairly dramatic improvements in the nation's public safety over the last ten years. The crime rate has decreased for eight consecutive years. Texas cities are no longer in the top 15 most crime-ridden cities in the U.S. - Dallas has moved to 25th, and Houston is 70th. Reasons for the improvement range from tougher sentencing laws, more active policing, lower unemployment and an aging population.

The improvements cost, however. Texas embarked on the largest prison building boom in the nation's history. Prisoners are serving more of their sentences behind bars, and the prison population is at an all-time high (almost 150,000 inmates). It costs $39 a day, or $14,000 a year, to house the average state inmate.

Recommendations include:

  • reserve prisons for violent and hardened criminals;
  • expand the number of drug courts;
  • implement adequate, effective substance abuse treatment for probationers and parolees;
  • modify state policy on technical parole violations;
  • identify nonviolent inmates with significant medical needs and include them in the pool for Special Needs parole;
  • establish secure nursing homes exclusively for inmates in urban areas;
  • foster and promote early intervention programs to curb juvenile violence;
  • strengthen DWI laws;
  • improve private correctional facilities with pay-for-performance standards;
  • expand the use of proven reintegration methods for released inmates (such as PIE); and
  • improve the quality of electronic criminal information systems.

Rep. Ray Allen, Daryl Anderson (Lockhart Correctional Facility Warden), three current inmates, Raymond Henderson (President of Chatleff Controls), and a former inmate employed by Chatleff Controls discussed the PIE program. Rep. Allen said the program was good public policy - inmates pay at least a portion of the cost of incarceration.

The goals of PIE are:

  1. To create a "level playing field" for all stakeholders;
  2. To generate products and services that enable prisoners to make a contribution to society, help offset the cost of their incarceration, compensate crime victims, and provide family support; and
  3. To provide a means of reducing prison idleness, increasing inmate job skills, and improving the prospects for a successful transition to the community upon release.

    The program also reduces disciplinary problems and gives inmates an opportunity to learn real world skills. The program employs 254 inmates and has been very successful.

    speakers at the meeting
    Daryl Anderson, Warden, Lockhart Correctional Facility; PIE participants Mark Anthony Conner and Richard Hilcher; and State Representative Ray Allen

    Over the last seven years, the state has recovered $2 million in incarceration costs, and $1 million has gone to crime victims. Rep. Allen also mentioned the recidivism rate was excellent with this program - 16% compared to the state average of 50%. Warden Anderson was very proud of the program in his facility.

    He said PIE gave five very important things to inmates: positive behavior changes, enhanced self esteem, personal accountability, a sense of worth, and a chance to re-establish family ties. The current and former inmates spoke of their participation in the program and how it had changed their lives. Mr. Henderson discussed the value of the program for his business. He said it gave him far better quality employees than he could find elsewhere.

    In addition to the current inmates employed in the Lockhart facility, the company has hired five released inmates at the main plant. Mr. Henderson said he would hire more, but they usually want to return home. He has given recommendations for many released inmates to prospective employers.

    Local Government Empowerment Team

    Tyler Mayor Kevin Eltife presented the task force report. Many local government entities are facing fiscal problems, stemming from the devolution of services and competition for scare sources of revenue, mainly the property tax. Cities are relying more on sales taxes and user fees, but alternative revenue sources are limited for counties. The task force goal is seamless government, providing a single face to citizens where they can obtain multiple services through a single portal. The challenge is bridging the digital divide and integrating local governments into the state's portal.

    Recommendations include:

    • local governments should use technology to cut costs and increase quality;
    • state law should be amended to enable cities and counties to participate in the Telecommunications Infrastructure Fund;
    • creation of a Local Government Technology Coordination Council;
    • implement community technology centers with federal funds appropriated for that purpose;
    • encourage greater use of interlocal agreements to consolidate duplicative services;
    • use privatization and outsourcing as tools to reduce costs and increase service quality;
    • implement activity based costing to arrive at the true cost of service delivery; and
    • institutionalize the "Yellow Pages test" in local government.

    Michael Garvy, City Manager for San Carlos, California, gave a presentation on the Silicon Valley Smart Permitting System. Eight cities in the Silcon Valley came together in a public-private partnership to develop an Internet-based service delivery model. The pilot project involved electronic building permit application and approval. The model has been very successful, compressing the time from three months to two weeks.

    Regulatory Reform Team

    Mr. Gerald Smith presented the task force report. The cost of complying with federal regulations is estimated to be $223 billion. In Texas, there are dozens of state agencies with regulatory authority. Numerous cities, counties and special districts also exercise similar powers. Many of the state regulatory programs are funded through fees, so the burden falls on the regulated community, not the general public.

    commissioners Smith and Fainter
    Commissioner Gerald Smith (foreground) and Commissioner John Fainter

    Recommendations include:

    • allow self regulation where appropriate;
    • use performance partnerships when possible;
    • stress outcomes rather than adherence to specific processes;
    • consolidate regulatory functions wherever possible;
    • streamline compliance information systems;
    • exploit the latest technology to deliver services;
    • provide licenses online; and
    • reduce paperwork by electronic reporting.

    speakers at the meeting
    Gene Fondren, President, Texas Automobile Owners Association and Micheal Cox, Senior Vice-President/Chief Economist, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas

    Gene Fondren (Texas Automobile Dealers Association) and Michael Cox (Federal Reserve Bank-Dallas) discussed the issue of Internet regulation. There was a decided difference of opinion, with Mr. Fondren advancing the cause of regulation and Mr. Cox advocating a laissez-faire approach.

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