Texas Becomes Model for Federal Criminal Justice Reform

By Brock Benjamin
Founding Attorney

How has Texas worked to reduce rates of recidivism?

The United States has the highest rates of incarceration in the world. In 2016, there were an estimated 2,298,300 people in prison in the United States out of a population of 323.1 million, according to the Prison Policy Initiative. The White House recently endorsed a measure to reduce the federal prison population and assist in the rehabilitation of those already in jail. President Trump has stated that he wants the federal effort to mirror Texas’s successful criminal justice reform. We explore the federal bill to reduce the prison population and how Texas has worked to become smart on crime in the past decade below.

The First Step Act

The First Step Act is a bipartisan bill backed by a prison reform organization’s initiative known as #cut50. The initiative #cut50 has a goal of reducing the prison population nationwide by 50 percent. Along with reducing the prison population, the initiative is working to bring more compassion to the criminal justice field by enacting measures such as improved compassionate release programs for the elderly and keeping prisoners in closer distance to their families.

Texas has become the beacon for many of the prison reform programs now being explored on the federal level. The First Step Act is borrowing from several programs already successfully implemented in Texas. Texas has made it a priority to reduce rates of recidivism by better preparing inmates for release into their new lives. Texas now offers classes and programming to prisoners. Prisoners can receive vocational training, substance abuse treatment, and academic classes, all of which open the doors for them upon release and can also accumulate towards good time credits.

Texas’ criminal justice reform movement was born in 2007 when the state found itself with a burgeoning prison population that could no longer be sustained. Rather than continuing to allocate more funds to pay for the ever increasing number of beds needed, Texas lawmakers adopted a new approach. The state made a move towards reducing incarceration rates for low-level offenders and diverting offenders with drug issues to drug court instead. In addition to saving the state money, the new approach has helped get more Texans into the workforce and out of prison. Now, the federal government will try to replicate and expand on Texas’ prison reform success, hopefully reducing our immense prison population in the near future.

About the Author
Brock Benjamin is board-certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.  His practice is primarily state and federal criminal law and appeals.Brock 

Posted in: Criminal Defense