Texas’s evolving views on Criminal Justice
A new poll conducted by conservative policy groups reports that a large majority of Texas, both republicans and democrats, favor alternatives to prison for non-violent offenders. The survey conducted by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and Right on Crime asked a series of questions about non-violent offenders.
79% of Texans support giving drug offenders who are not drug dealers probation as opposed to prison. 77% percent agreed that all non-violent offenders should be given a chance at rehabilitation before prison, for property crimes 82% believed they should be able to take part in a program that includes paying back the victim before prison. 87% said that the state should have an approach where the justice system focuses on treating drug and mental health problems for non-violent offenses.
The results may be surprising given Texas’s reputation as having a lock them up and throw away the key brand of criminal justice. It may be most surprising to elected officials who tend to believe that having the toughest stance on crime and punishment is the best way to get elected and that any discussion focusing on rehabilitation and alternatives to incarceration will be viewed as a weakness.
In fact Texas has already begun to see the positive effects of focusing on alternatives to prison. Years ago, legislators facing budget problems decided to put $243 million dollars into rehabilitative programs instead of $2 billion dollars into new prison beds and in the following years the crime rate dropped and Texas was able to close prison units.
It seems that voters may be starting to see that often incarceration is both the most expensive and least effective method for dealing with non-violent crimes. Given these poll numbers it is hoped that policymakers will be able enter into serious discussions about our criminal justice system and alternatives to prison with each other and with the public without fear of being called weak on crime.