In an attempt to lower the population in prisons, Texas’ policy on state jail felonies is increasing recidivism rates drastically for minor felons.
In the 90s, Texas Legislature attempted to build an sentencing alternative for minor felons. Congressmen reclassified a host certain felonies and reduced their maximum sentences from two to ten years. The policy was mostly focused on drug and property offenses. This resulted in a new classification of offenses in Texas known as state jail felonies.
These offenses traded lengthy prison sentences for shorter sentencing in jails local to major Texas cities. In turn, it would give felons access to programs for rehabilitation and mental treatment. The idea was to relieve the overpopulation in prisons and end recidivism for minor felons.
However, the truth is that state jail felons have a higher chance of relapsing into recidivism than any other group in Texas. Nearly 63% of inmates after incarceration are arrested, as opposed to the 46% of those released from Texas prisons.
Why Are Recidivism Rates Rising in Texas for State Jail Felonies?
The Promises of Lawmakers were never accomplished. Without re-entry planning, rehabilitative or mental health care, there is little chance of minor felons re-integrating into society.
As of today, only six of Texas’ fifteen state jails provide treatment for substance abuse. Sadly, many minor felons don’t qualify for said treatment due to their shorter sentences. For state jail felons who don’t access treatment inside, there is never a follow-up or supervision of any kind.
Only 87 of the nearly 20,000 people discharged from their respective state jails in 2016 were released on probation. That’s less than 1%. With no policies properly preparing them for life after incarceration, it’s no wonder recidivism rates are rising in Texas.
Texas’ State Jail and Prison System has Failed Minor Felons
The rising recidivism rates are a failure of Texas’ prison system, not minor felons. Doug Smith, a senior policy analyst with the nonprofit Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, encourages the Legislature to work on providing more diversion programs. This would implement more rehabilitative and re-entry programs to keep one from returning to a Texas state jail or prison.
Texas is considering reforming the policies of state jail felonies in 2019. According to Smith, “The system’s failures underscore the need for lawmakers to find ways to address public health issues outside the criminal justice system. On average, low-income Texans with substance abuse disorders must wait more than two weeks for intensive residential treatment and nearly four weeks for outpatient treatment.”
With no other options, these issues need to be fixed as soon as possible.