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Report: State Jails Are A Bad Deal For Taxpayers
A new report says state jails in Texas are ineffective, expensive, and actually result in higher recidivism rates than Texas prisons.
The report from the Texas Public Policy Foundation suggests taxpayers are getting a bad deal on their tax dollars and public safety.
The report’s author, Jeanette Moll, says through the research they have found state jails have become a costly substitute for prisons.
“These facilities were actually exceeding the expenses, and had higher recidivism rates than prisons, that adds up to a pretty bad deal for Texas taxpayers,” said Moll.
The report points out that in 2010 prison costs varied from $44 to $49 per day per offender, varying with the type of prison. State jails costs rose to $43 per day in 2010. Stating state jail costs for state run facilities rose 38.5 percent between 1998 and 2010.
“Right now we’re not doing that to the best of our abilities,” said Moll. “When we know we’ve got state felons choosing to go to a state jail, when we know we are spending too much on these facilities and not getting a good return we are really failing tax payers.”
A statement released to KEYE TV from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice says, "The agency defers to the Legislature regarding the policy recommendations contained in the report. As reported in the LBB report entitled Statewide Criminal Justice Recidivism and Revocation Rates January 2011, property and drug offenders have higher recidivism rates than more violent criminals. That accounts for much of the difference in recidivism rates between prison and state jail offenders. The average-cost-per day for housing state jail felons is approximately 15 percent less than the cost-per-day for housing prison inmates, but the more significant cost savings associated with the state jail system are attributed to the shorter lengths of stay."
Moll says in 1993, the Texas Legislature created state jails as an alternative to the prison system for low level offenders. It was a way to provide punishment for drug and minor property crime offenders while alleviating the burden on the prison system and using rehabilitation and community supervision as a way to transition inmates back into society.
“If the state jail population decreases as it would under our proposal, a portion of those funds should be reinvested back in the communities so they have the adequate resources to handle these state jail funds,” said Moll.
In a phone interview with KEYE TV Texas State Senator John Whitmire, who was part of the state jail legislation back in 1993, agreed Texas can do better, but says the system is not near as broke as the report would make it seem.
“It’s good to draw attention, I am going to revisit state jails,” said Whitmire. “It’s always good to visit and revisit these topics, but they work well. They could work better.”
Whitmire says state budget cuts over the past 20 years have impacted how the jails run.
He believes the report reflects the legislature’s original intention of state jails, but cautions the system isn’t broken, and changes to it could impact other areas of corrections, and you have to be careful about what would happen if state jails were no longer around.
Whitmire says he would like to see more intense drug and alcohol services along with education. He says the state has a responsibility to release a better person, and locking them up and throwing away the key isn’t the best solution.
Whitmire is also looking at different ways for rehabilitation and re-entry, but argues you don’t start over because state jails are a sound concept.
“We can do better, and state jails give us that opportunity,” said Whitmire.
Jeanette Moll says reforming state law to return state jails to their originally intended purpose would give community supervision in Texas a powerful tool in their efforts to rehabilitate and punish offenders.
By Adam Racusin