Newspaper clipping headlined:"Prison reform keeps surfacing", March 29, 1982
Newspaper clipping headlined: "Prison reform keeps surfacing," Austin American-Statesman, March 29, 1982. Prison overcrowding and funding is a major issue in the 1982 election year.
Clippings (information artifacts)
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118 WIST Sin ST Morning American-St ales ni au Austin, Texas MAR 2 9 1982. 'Prison reform keeps surfacing This is the secoind ithaeries of four articles on issues facing the state this election year. By DICK STANLEY Arnerican•Sfatesman Staff As a symptom of problems in Texas' criminal justice system, the state's battle with a federal judge over conditions in She state prisons is a ready-made issue. While Attorney General Mark White's office seeks to have a federal overseer of court-ordered reforms fired for miscon- duct, the overseer is asking that the state be found in contempt for disobeying the orders. It has become a truism of Texas poli- tics that there is no political value in championing a compromise with U.S. District Judge William Justice of Tyler. But that might change if the cost of ap- peals begins to approach the multi- million-dollar cost of Justice's ordered reforms. By primary election day, the law firm of Fulbright & Jaworski will have been paid almost $1 million in legal fees to as- sist White's office. Yet there has been no ruling on the case by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Moreover, the professional journal, Corrections Magazine, said Justice's re- form orders may be unsettling to Texas but they are not landmark decisions and are supported by many similar prison re- form cases in other states. If the state ap- peals the ease to the U.S. Supreme Court, a final decision might be years — and millions of more dollars in legal fees — 4110away. Although the state is appealing most of the reform orders, the 1981 Legislature did address some of the issues — particu- larly the overcrowding of inmates and Justice's order for more community cor- rections alternatives to prison. The Legis- lature provided money to build more prisons and halfway houses for parolees who would not otherwise be released. The state Board of Pardons and Par- oles recently readied-1,00*--htli4way house beds for the anticipated crush of parolees, and more beds are expected. A rider on the 1981 appropriations bill provides funds for the release of 8,000 in- mates to halfway houses by 1983. But board officials consider the measure a "request," one that can be fulfilled only if the board considers the releases possible. So far there have been fewer than 1,500 releases under the halfway house pro- gram. Meanwhile, the expensive construction of more prisons, while viscerally satisfy- ing to criminal justice hard-liners, op- poses years of expert opinion that as fast as prisons can be built, they will be filled to overflowing. Last year, a study by the National Insti- tute of Justice reiterated that no matter how many cells are built, they are filled within two years and overcrowded by about 30 percent within five years. So criminal justice reform lobbies such as the statewide Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE) contin- ue to push for greater use of correction measures such as halfway houses and community-service sentences. CURE also wants greater flexibility in manda- tory sentencing laws. Even former Texas prisons' director George Beto testified at a recent legisla- tive advisory hearing that the inflexibi- lity inherent in mandatory sentencing makes the work of corrections profes- sionals more difficult. Along that line, Clements has said he will try again in the 1983 legislative ses- sion to amend the state's habitual crimi- nal statute — which mandates life im- prisonment for commission of a third fel- ony — to end such disproportionate ef- fects as a San Antonio man's widely publicized life sentence for his third theft of less than $500. Clemtata_trjeci unsuccessfully in the 1981 session to have thF law amended to eliminate certain categories of non-vio- lent criminal cases. But CURE Director Charles Sullivan said the state still needs a realistic meth- od of funding the new victim-compensa- tion law. So far the law places the mone- tary burden on newly paroled inmates who already have a tough time finding jobs that matches what few skills the pri- sons teach them. Despite the suggestion of U.S. Chief Justice Warren Burger that the nation's prisons be turned into "factories with fences," no Texas political voices have been raised on the subject. NEXT: Issues in public education. s5