Whether it’s through day reporting centers, location monitoring systems, or other alternatives to detention, the ultimate goals of these programs are to decrease jail or prison populations, reduce recidivism, save taxpayer money and improve community safety. In Texas, which previously held the country’s highest per capita incarceration rate, smart alternatives to detention have proved valuable in reaching those goals.
According to statistics released a few weeks ago, the state’s prison system recently posted its lowest numbers in five years, despite the overall population of the state growing rapidly. The count dropped by 2,500 to about 154,000 prisoners in the state’s 111 prisons. Texas used to have the nation’s highest per capita incarceration rate, but is now in fourth place.
According to a story in The Statesman, an Austin publication – Texas prison population shrinks as rehabilitation programs take root – officials are saying the decline is in thanks to smart, efficient alternatives to detention. These include alternative treatment and rehabilitation programs, rather than more jail time. Instead of locking offenders up, they are giving them the opportunity to receive treatment for the thought processes and behaviors that led to their criminal activity. According to the article, “…that could mean safer communities and fewer expensive prisons to operate. For criminals, that could mean more effective programs to help them escape drug and other addictions and become law-abiding citizens again.”
Texas criminal justice officials have employed a number of different methods to keep certain types of offenders out of prison, saving taxpayers money and decreasing the load on the state’s prison system. These methods include specialty courts for certain offenders focused on treatment and rehabilitation instead of prison; electronic monitoring technology for parole officers; community-based programs designed to curb recidivism; in-prison treatment programs; and a trend toward in-community treatment for juveniles, rather than lockups.