AUSTIN – The Texas Public Policy Foundation commends Senate Criminal Justice Chairman John Whitmire (D-Houston) and House Corrections Chairman Jerry Madden (R-Plano) for presenting an alternative vision for criminal justice that would not require the construction of new prisons.

"The plan presented today by Chairmen Whitmire and Madden incorporates many of our recommendations and those of the Sunset Advisory Commission," said Marc Levin, director of TPPF's Center for Effective Justice. "It confirms our belief that more old-style prison beds are an unnecessary, billion-dollar commitment that taxpayers cannot afford."

Building two new prisons with 4,000 beds, as proposed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, would saddle taxpayers with $377 million in construction costs and $600 million in operations costs over 10 years.

Texas prisons house 20,000 nonviolent drug possession offenders and 12,000 probationers revoked for technical violations, such as missing a meeting. "The Whitmire/Madden plan focuses on these offenders who do not threaten the public," Levin said, "which allows the state to reserve existing prison space for dangerous violent criminals and sex offenders."

The Whitmire/Madden plan would add new treatment beds, mostly in 90-day transitional treatment centers and intermediate sanctions facilities. "Our research indicates that diverting nonviolent offenders who would have spent years in prison to intensive but time-limited residential treatment, and paroling minor drug offenders now in prison to such programs, will save hundreds of millions compared with the cost of building new prisons," Levin explained.

Texas has the second highest incarceration rate in the nation. While Texas' overall population increased 35 percent between 1978 and 2004, its prison system grew 278 percent. Texas' non-violent prison population is larger than the total prison population of every state but California.

TPPF's Center for Effective Justice has been working closely with Whitmire, Madden, and key stakeholders for nearly two years to develop solutions to the state's criminal justice challenges that protect public safety, restore victims, reform offenders, and do not burden taxpayers. The Center has released numerous publications outlining reforms in areas such as probation, parole, sentencing, and juvenile justice.

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