Brief: State Jail Felonies

March 14, 2019

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A Catholic perspective:

We support efforts to rehabilitate those who commit non-violent state jail felonies. According to Church teaching, a civil government’s response to crime should uphold justice by achieving four goals: rehabilitate the offender, protect society from the offender, deter future offences, and redress the disorder caused by the offense.[1] As Catholics consider how to rehabilitate offenders, it is helpful to read a homily which St. John Paul II delivered to inmates, in which he explained that Christ was both a prisoner and a lawgiver:

Dear brothers and sisters, Jesus Christ – the prisoner – appears before us who are gathered here: “I was in prison and you came to me” (Mt. 25: 36). He is asking to be found in you and in so many other people touched by various forms of human suffering.… At the center of this Jubilee [year of mercy] there is Christ, the prisoner; at the same time there is Christ the lawgiver. It is Christ who establishes the law, proclaims it and strengthens it. However, he does this not with arrogance, but with meekness and love. He heals what is sick, strengthens what is bruised. Where a faint flame of goodness still burns, he revives it with the breath of his love. He forcefully proclaims justice and heals wounds with the balm of mercy.[2]

Punishment has meaning if, while maintaining the demands of justice and discouraging crime, it serves the rehabilitation of the individual offender by offering an opportunity to reflect and to change one’s life. Therefore, we support efforts to expand pretrial detention and rehabilitate incarcerated offenders, especially by providing for educational and vocational training in order to help offenders live virtuous lives and contribute to the common good of Texas.

[1] Catechism #2265-2266.

[2] St. John Paull II, Jubilee in prisons: Sunday homily on July 9, 2000.

Punishment has meaning if... it serves
the rehabilitation of the individual
offender by offering an opportunity
to reflect and to change one’s life.

Texas law and policy:

State jails were created in 1993 to incarcerate Texas’ lowest-level felony offenses.[3] By December 2018, the system of 15 jails incarcerated 7,146 individuals.[4] Figure 1 summarizes the top 10 offenses of record for the state jail population; the average time in a state jail is 6 months.[5]

While the leading offence of record is drug possession, state jails provide little or no treatment and no post-release supervision.[6] This contributes to released offenders having the highest recidivism rates in Texas’ state corrections system: 63 percent are re-arrested within three years.[7] In contrast, offenders who complete treatment are up to 60 percent less likely to relapse or commit another crime, and 40 percent more likely to find employment.[8]

Diversion from state jail is impeded by the use of pretrial incarceration, a defendant’s prior incarceration, and the cost of probation.[9] These three issues are barriers to pretrial intervention, treatment, deferred adjudication community supervision, and placement in drug courts.

To improve rehabilitation of state jail offenders, Texas legislators should provide for pretrial intervention funding, encourage performance-based pay, and reform sentencing requirements:

  1. Pretrial intervention funding should be provided for felonies and certain misdemeanors at the same rate as traditional probation. In addition, the Community Justice Assistance Division (CJAD) should be allowed to provide diversion funding to a community supervision and corrections department, government, or municipality.

  2. CJAD should be required to prioritize funding for programs which: establish pretrial intervention programs, rapidly place individuals into pretrial intervention programs after arrest, minimize the duration of pretrial incarceration, and minimize the wait for pretrial intervention.

  3. A third-degree felony drug possession should be reduced to a state jail felony. Moreover, the three-strikes theft law should be revised to a step-up penalty enhancement law.

[3] SB 1067, 73rd RS (1993).

[4] Texas Department of Criminal Justice, List of Secure Facilities; Texas Commission on Jail Standards, Abbreviated Current Population Report. (Dec. 1, 2018)

[5] Texas Department of Criminal Justice, FY 2017 Statistical Report. 9; Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, A Failure in the Fourth Degree: Reforming the State Jail Felony System in Texas. (Oct. 16, 2018) 3 n. 10.

[6] Ibid. 2.

[7] Legislative Budget Board, Statewide Criminal and Juvenile Justice Recidivism and Revocation Rates. (Jan. 2019) 2.

[8] National Institute on Drug Abuse, Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction. (February 2016) 29.

[9] A Failure in the Fourth Degree. 6-11. Cf. TCCB, Brief: Pretrial incarceration.

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