Texas “Right on Crime” data points to effective criminal justice strategies

The Texas Department of Public Safety has announced an 8.3 percent reduction in violent crime rates, in the same year (2011) when that state’s incarceration rates fell 1.45 percent. The new data feeds additional the hopes of Oklahoma state officials that the Justice Reinvestment Initiative will yield similar results. 

Marc Levin, senior policy advisor for “Right on Crime”, an Austin-based group, observed his state “has emerged as a national leader in criminal justice reform, strengthening alternatives to incarceration by using conservative principles such as limited government and accountability. The dramatic crime drop in Texas far surpasses the national downward trend and validates the smart approach to cutting crime and costs that Texas continues to take and which the Right on Crime initiative has promoted across the nation.
“While any amount of crime is too much if you are the victim, the falling crime rate is a step in the right direction for Texas neighborhoods and the lower incarceration rate in 2011 translates into a lighter burden for Texas taxpayers. We encourage Texas lawmakers to continue implementing ‘smart on crime’ policies and urge other states to look to Texas as a model for prioritizing prison space for violent and dangerous offenders and strengthening alternatives to incarceration to more cost-effectively hold nonviolent offenders accountable and protect public safety.”
Oklahoma’s initial steps toward judicial reform have attracted strong bipartisan majorities in the Legislature. They were encouraged in this direction early in the 2012 legislative session by Texas state Rep. Jerry Madden, a conservative Republican, who described his experience in crafting reforms that have saved the Lone Star State hundreds of millions of dollars over the last half-decade.  

In March 2011, Michael Carnuccio of the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs joined Levin to tout corrections and criminal justice policies “that actually work.” 

Asa Hutchinson, former member of Congress and former U.S. Attorney from Arkansas, encouraged Republicans in the Legislature to back the “right on crime” concept, insisting it is both tough and smart, and in the long run more effective than widely-adopted policies of the past two decades. Former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III is one of many conservatives who have backed the approach. 

Levin’s group, in its own words, “provides conservative principled solutions that are proven to reduce crime, lower costs and restore victims. Right on Crime is a national initiative led by the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, one of the nation’s leading state-based conservative think tanks.

“The initiative aims to raise awareness and grow support for effective criminal justice reforms within the conservative movement. This project will share research and policy ideas, mobilize conservative leaders, and work to raise public awareness.”

Oklahoma Speaker of the House Kris Steele said, in a video interview with CapitolBeatOK this spring, he believed Oklahoma’s embrace of the justice reinvestment approach was “a significant moment” for Oklahoma. He believes it will be viewed as a “game changer” as the state seeks to flatten incarceration rates over several years, ultimately saving millions of dollars, and pressing some of that revenue into alternatives to incarceration

Oklahoma’s approach includes use of intermediate revocation facilities for low risk offenders, more mental health beds, and law enforcement resources to focus on prevention strategies. 

Robert Coombs of the Council of State Governments helped design the Sooner State’s reforms, incorporated this spring into Speaker Steele’s House Bill 3052.

Information from Right on Crime distills the story from Texas since that state launched “initiatives in 2005 to enhance the utilization of alternatives for nonviolent offenders, such as problem-solving courts, mental health and substance abuse treatment diversion programs, swift and certain sanctions, and incentives for offenders under community supervision. The reforms allowed the state to close an unneeded prison in 2011.
“Although the FBI statistics on which the DPS report was based show that, nationally, violent crime fell 4.0 percent and property crime 0.8 percent in 2011, Texas’ crime drop dwarfed the national decline. In 2011, Texas’ violent crime rate dropped 9.3 percent and the property crime rate fell 8.3 percent.”