We were surprised to learn from this New York Times article that for the first time ever, Texas is actually closing one of its prisons -- all because of sentencing reforms that have transformed that notoriously "tough on crime" state into a "smart on crime" leader:
Some early results have been dramatic. In 2007, Texas was facing a projected shortfall of about 17,000 inmate beds by 2012. But instead of building and operating new prison space, the State Legislature decided to steer nonviolent offenders into drug treatment and to expand re-entry programs designed to help recently released inmates avoid returning to custody.
As a result, the Texas prison system is now operating so far under its capacity that this month it is closing a 1,100-bed facility in Sugar Land — the first time in the state’s history that a prison has closed. Texas taxpayers have saved hundreds of millions of dollars, and the changes have coincided with the violent crime rate’s dipping to its lowest level in 30 years.
“In Texas for the last few years we’ve been driving down both the crime rate and the incarceration rate,” said Marc Levin, the director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which helped draft the state’s corrections overhaul. “And it’s not just Texas. South Carolina, Kentucky, Arkansas and Ohio in the past year or so have done major reforms. These are certainly not liberal states. That is significant.”Interestingly, reforms can get reversed or short-circuited not because they don't work, but, ironically, because of high-profile crimes (which likely caused the long sentences in the first place):
In addition, at least three other states — Illinois, New Jersey and Wisconsin — suspended or revoked programs that allowed well-behaved inmates to earn early parole. Earlier this year, for example, New Jersey repealed such a program after two former inmates who had been released early were charged with murders.Public safety is vital, of course, but should a meaningful sentencing reform be rolled back because of one or two high-profile crimes? Isn't this throwing out the baby with the bathwater? What are your thoughts?