Marc Levin

Many of those diverted from prison to these facilities would otherwise be among the 8,400 other offenders in Texas prisons today who are incarcerated solely for drug possession, a separate crime from drug dealing. The length of time served is the best benchmark for most serious violent offenders because incapacitation is the primary goal, but it makes more sense to spend a fraction of the money to put many nonviolent drug possession offenders into a shorter-term community-based facility where they can get clean, keep in closer contact with family, and prepare to find a job and reenter society.

The Legislature also added 3,000 outpatient drug treatment slots. Interestingly, the new LBB estimate does not assume any diversions from prison will result from those, although lawmakers hope some prosecutors and judges will use these new slots in lieu of state lockups.

Accordingly, state officials should monitor implementation of the new treatment resources to ensure that all counties are participating. For example, Harris County accounts for more than half of the offenders sent to state jail for less than a gram of a controlled substance. The governor’s office, which distributes millions in criminal justice grants, should prioritize those counties that are fully utilizing alternatives to incarceration that taxpayers are already funding.

While it is too early to fully assess the results of these reforms, there is no evidence of a crime wave. Violent crime declined last year in both Houston and Dallas.

Because Texas lawmakers were willing to embrace change, the only Texans receiving a “get out of jail free card” are taxpayers who would have been on the hook for billions in unnecessary prison costs.

Marc Levin

Marc A. Levin is a director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation and a leader of the Right on Crime initiative.