The San Antonio Current has a story with the same title as this post about a panel Grits moderated last week at the UT-Austin LBJ School regarding what the federal immigration detention system could learn from pretrial services programs on the criminal justice side. The article by Michael Barajas opened thusly:
GOP State Rep. Jerry Madden took the helm of the House corrections committee in 2005, just in time for a deeply distressing projection: booming incarceration in our notoriously tough-on-crime state meant Texas would need eight new prisons by 2012, at a cost of about $1 billion. Meanwhile, Madden got stern marching orders from then-House Speaker Tom Craddick.
“Don’t build new prisons,” Madden recalled last week. “They cost too much.”
Pulling from both conservative and liberal playbooks, two years later Texas pushed through landmark criminal justice reforms, shuffling funding to drug and DWI courts, curbing the average time for probation (the prison system’s top feeder) and ordering the state parole board to raise its parole rate.
This year, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s population remained 17,000 prisoners below what state officials had projected, and “right-on-crime” advocates say Texas has saved over $2 billion in the process.
Madden touted the lesson to criminal justice experts and immigration reform advocates from across the country that gathered last week. The forum at UT-Austin’s LBJ School, sponsored by Human Rights First, was the first of four being held across the country aimed at carrying prison-reduction strategies over into the nation’s booming immigrant detention system, which in 2011, according to the latest Office of Immigration Statistics report, jailed about 429,000 immigrants – a new record, even as illegal border crossers have dropped to a 40-year low.
The U.S. immigration detention network “is a fiscal conservative’s nightmare, an absolute nightmare,” said Texas criminal justice watchdog Scott Henson, who authors the closely-watched blog Grits for Breakfast. Moderating a panel on detention alternatives, Henson said, “I will tell you that the most right-wing county commissioner’s court in Texas wouldn’t tolerate for a second the kind of dysfunction and inefficiency and waste of millions and millions of dollars that’s apparently just accepted in the immigration system.”
I’ve been swamped lately and have not had a chance to write up my notes from the event, so I was pleased to see the coverage. See also a related recent story from the Texas Tribune titled, “Advocacy groups target private prisons for immigrants,” and a fact sheet (pdf) distributed at the event detailing immigration detention data in Texas.