“Right on Crime” analyses tout Lone Star State’s dramatic criminal justice reforms

Conservative analysts in Texas and around the nation, including a former attorney general of the United States, are touting results from significant criminal justice reforms in the areas of juvenile and adult corrections. 

Upbeat assessments of the outcomes could have broader implications, not only for “reinvestment” efforts in Oklahoma, but at the national level. In Georgia, as well as in Oklahoma, advocates believe reforms like those in Texas can be duplicated across America. 

In recent weeks, the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) and Right on Crime, a national group based at the foundation, have circulated policy briefs documenting notable positive results in cost and in effectiveness. 

According to the foundation, advisors from the two organizations have worked closely with the Texas state Legislature and with Gov. Rick Perry to “overhaul” the state’s corrections system. 

While criminal justice issues have not dominated the Republican presidential campaign, examples of strong programs in Perry’s home state might resonate on the campaign trail and in debates about cost-effective reform. 

Marc Levin, senior policy advisor to the national organization who serves as director of the Center for Effective Justice at TPPF, said in comments sent to CapitolBeatOK, “For the first time in state history, Texas closed a prison because we don’t need it anymore. The reforms that were first adopted in Texas have stimulated similar initiatives across the nation in South Carolina, Kentucky, Georgia, Ohio, Arkansas, and other states.

“Crime has dropped in Texas since the changes and taxpayers have saved more than a billion dollars from not building new prisons. We believe these commonsense policies, which were supported by ‘tough and smart on crime’ conservatives and are outlined in these reports, can serve as an effective model for other states.”

One of the reports, “Adult Corrections Reform: Lower Crime, Lower Costs,”concluded that since 2005 an expansion of alternatives to incarceration has improved the state’s efforts to “hold nonviolent offenders accountable and provide effective supervision. This has helped Texas reduce its crime rate by 12.8 percent since 2005 while also reducing its incarceration rate by 9 percent. Additionally, the number of new crimes committed by parolees fell 8.5 percent from 2007 to 2010.”

A second report from TPPF,“Comprehensive Juvenile Justice Reform: Cutting Costs, Saving Lives,”concluded that as a result of changes over the past half-decade, “Texas was able to reduce the number of juvenile crime cases by 9.1 percent from 2007 to 2011. Among the reforms, Texas moved away from an overemphasis on incarcerating less serious youth offenders in remotely located state lockups and towards evidence-based community corrections programs that produce a greater reduction in re-offending for every dollar spent.”

Brooke Rollins, president of the foundation, is a signatory to the “Right on Crime” manifesto that has been signed by former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III, Prison Fellowship’s Patrick Nolan, former American Conservative Union Chairman Dave Keene, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, and other nationally-known conservative leaders.

In reflections provided to CapitolBeatOK, Rollins said, “While we have more work to do, the Texas model of reform has proven to be extremely effective in both increasing public safety and saving taxpayers’ money.

“In criminal justice, it is vital to align policies with the current research indicating what works to protect communities and reform offenders, rather than simply maintain the status quo. The commonsense approach outlined in these new reports provides a roadmap for other states to follow Texas’ model in modernizing the corrections system in a way that reduces crime and cuts costs.”

In the Peach State, the Georgia Criminal Justice Reform Council is scheduled to release recommendations to the Legislature next month. Organizers of the effort say it will track with the Texas reforms. 

Another Right on Crime signatory is Kelly McCutchen – president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. In comments sent to CapitolBeatOK, McCutheon said, “Today, almost a half million people are under correctional control in Georgia, costing the state more than $1 billion annually.

“The Criminal Justice Reform Council and the Georgia State legislature will need to take bold steps to transform our expensive corrections system. Right on Crime’s principles, conservative leadership, and experience working with ‘tough on crime’ policymakers like the Texas legislature can help guide Georgia towards a more effective criminal justice system.”

Here in Oklahoma, in March, House Speaker Kris Steele joined Levin, from Texas, and Michael Carnuccio of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA) at a Blue Room press conference to unveil a Right on Crime emphasis for Oklahoma. 

The effort coincides with the major push, based around Steele’s efforts, for alternatives to incarceration and better post-incarceration supervision of felons.
Diverse groups have been active in the drive, pointing to effective criminal justice strategies such as those at Tulsa’s acclaimed Women in Recovery (WIR). 

Oklahoma’s Justice Reinvestment Project is co-chaired by Speaker Steele and is well into a program that began last summer to intensively study what works and what does not in state criminal justice policies. Steele just completed a series of town hall meetings laying out pervasive evidence that despite major increases in government spending on prisons, Oklahoma’s crime rate has not fallen as much as in other states with more effective post-incarceration policies.

Speaking from a national perspective, the ACU’s Keene asserted, “We must make a thoughtful distinction between violent and nonviolent offenders. Right on Crime’s work has transformed broken criminal justice systems, and its commonsense principles played a major role in reducing Texas’ crime rate to its lowest point since 1973.”