More support additional criminal justice reforms in Texas

After landslide victories for the Republican Party in 2014, Texas is clearly more conservative than ever.  What many people did not realize this means is that it also wants criminal justice reform more than ever as well.

Right on Crime, the leading conservative voice on criminal justice, recently released a poll showing the opinion of likely Texas voters on key issues in the criminal justice field.  The results show that conservatives are pleased with the results of the system reforms from 2007 but are itching for their principles to again be pushed in the criminal justice sphere, most particularly in addressing the recurring problem of drug users in the system.

Overwhelming majorities of Texas citizens expressed a desire for the justice system to change and bolster the focus when dealing with substance abuse. Whether Texans see drug crimes as a problem requiring individualized attention or they believe that the current approach is not bringing them enough bang for their buck, Texas citizens strongly advocate additional reform.

Seventy-three percent of those polled approved of the changes in 2007, supporting reforms that push treatment for those non-violent offenders convicted of mere drug possession instead of actual drug trafficking.  Sixty-one percent of Texas voters believe that we should be spending more money on effective treatment programs rather than increasing funding for prisons.  Then, getting down to sentencing brass tacks, 76 percent of voters argued that non-violent offenders convicted of drug possession should be placed on probation and receive substance abuse treatment, rather than simply being incarcerated.

Research backs up public opinion.  Texas offenders who have completed drug court programs have been found to have a 28.5-percent re-arrest rate at the same time that those in a control group were found to have a much greater 58.5 percent re-arrest rate.  Even if offenders did not complete the program, they still had lower rates of recidivism than those that were never involved.  There are numerous other benefits to treatment alternatives for drug offenders.  Families are preserved instead of being ripped apart, and future employment opportunities are increased.  Research also shows that the use of drug courts lowers the strain on the foster care system.

Public safety is the charge of the criminal justice system, and those entrusted with this commitment need to address it in the most efficient manner possible.  These numbers show that taxpayers are thinking about results and goals in the correctional system.  Given that they are funding these programs, this is their right.  The justice system is accountable to those it serves.

The urging of these changes by Texas citizens and voters show that the advances Right on Crime has championed for years are the true Texas solution.  Drug courts, sentencing reforms, performance-based funding, and treatment programs are the way to go in criminal justice reform.

Dianna Muldrow is a researcher with Right on Crime.

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