After decades of costly prison reform litigation under the Ruiz decree the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) continues to have serious problems of overcrowding. Overcrowding of state prisons has reduced the TDCJ's ability to receive new prisoners, this has created a huge backlog of convicted felony prisoners in the state's county jails and resulted in litigation to challenge crowding and conditions there. One effect of this has been efforts by the Texas Legislature to create "state jails."
The Texas legislature is considering several proposals to create a "state jail" division of the TDCJ. State jails would differ from prisons in that they would be more "spartan" and less expensive to construct and to operate. They are designed to reduce the county jail backlog, to avoid Alberti decision fines in Harris county, and to reserve prison space for violent offenders. The "jails" would adhere to lower standards than prisons.
SB 171- For construction of 10,000 state jail beds has already been signed into law by Governor Richards.
SB 532- Creates a state jail division.
SB 1067 (Whitmire)- Construction of 40,000 more prison beds and creation of a State Jail Felony Division.
SB 5 (Turner)- Construction of 16,000 more jail beds. This bill has passed the Senate and is in the House Committee on Appropriations.
HB 1234 (Hightower)- A proposal for regional jails differs from both the emergency appropriation and Senator Whitmire's concepts. This mandates a new category of "4th degree felons" and the use of regional facilities with local corrections agencies cooperation. Sentencing would allow for 1-4 years of state supervision, including probation or community correction for individuals with no previous felony offense. Those who do not comply with their community supervision could be sentenced for up to six months in a regional jail. Persons sentenced with one prior felony conviction would serve 3 months in the regional jail before community corrections, etc. It could well be that the "spartan" facilities will not include any type of rehabilitative or educational facilities.
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