In 2005, Texas officials noticed the alarming rate at which their state’s corrections budget was growing. By 2007, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice wanted the state legislature to provide $523 million in additional funding for three new prisons, which would have allowed the prison population to grow to more than 168,000 by 2012. The department had reasons to expect a positive response for a funding request. After all, Texas was well-known for its “tough on crime” stance.
Members of the Texas Legislature, such as Republican Representative Jerry Madden and conservative Democratic Senator John Whitmire, decided on a bold strategy. They teamed up to convince the members of the legislature and then-Governor Rick Perry to spend $241 million on treatment, mental health and rehabilitation, rather than on new prison facilities. Three years later, Texas’ prison population declined by 15,000 inmates and probation recidivism fell by nearly 25 percent. In addition, by the time Governor Perry had left office in January of 2015, the crime rate declined to its lowest rate since 1968. Ultimately, under Perry’s leadership as governor, Texas shut down three prisons and saved taxpayers $2 billion. The movement to reform underperforming and wasteful criminal justice programs had begun.
Criminal justice reform in many states across the country has shown that conservatives have followed Texas’ lead and strongly supported the issue. Additionally, there is bipartisan consensus that the system is in need of reform. The high costs of incarceration and high rates of recidivism demonstrate this point of agreement. As of fiscal year 2010, the average annual cost of incarcerating a state prisoner was $31,286, with the costs ranging from $14,603 in Kentucky to $60,076 in New York. Ultimately, taxpayers deserve the most efficient use of their funds. Enacting certain criminal justice reforms would save taxpayer funds while simultaneously ensuring public safety.