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criminal law

Texas Leads the Way in Criminal Law Reforms

By Peek & Toland on September 29, 2016

Texas has a reputation for being a state that’s tough and unyielding on crime and big on incarceration. However, in recent years the Lone Star State has forged a reputation for enacting important criminal law reforms.

Recently, the Texas Observer reported on how the state has pioneered important reforms.

The Observer noted Texas has an “increasingly strong bipartisan coalition.” It is continuing to push for reform in the criminal justice arena.

These are changes that would have been unthinkable in the 1990s when the state’s prison system tripled in size.

Texas pioneers criminal law reforms

In recent years the trend has been reversed, although Texas still has more prisoners than any other states and executes more inmates.

The reforms can be traced back to 2005. Policymakers under the leadership of former Republican Gov. Rick Perry undertook reforms criminal law reforms which led to a 12-percent reduction in the state’s incarceration rate since 2009. Supporters of the reforms claimed they resulted in the lowest crime rate since 1968.

Criminal Law Reforms Include Drug Courts

The changes implemented in Texas included specialized drug courts which served as an alternative to incarceration. The state shook up its parole and probation system. Legislators wanted to quickly punish violations without automatically sending an offender to prison.

The massive projected costs of new prisons almost a decade ago was one catalyst to reform. The Observer noted the state was spending $2 billion to build and run new facilities to meet rising demand. Legislators looked at how they could instead invest more than $240 million in programs in the community that would divert offenders from prison.

Fast forward to 2016 and Texas closed three prisons, reduced the number of inmates and enacted significant criminal law reforms to address wrongful convictions. It led the way in reforms in forensic science.

That’s not to say Texas is a role model yet. The state has one of the worst records in the country for miscarriages of justice. It uses the death penalty far more than any other state in the Union. Our experienced Austin criminal defense attorneys help many people who have been wronged by prosecutors to secure jail release.

During the most recent legislative session, legislators enacted more reforms including:

1 – Adjusting the property theft thresholds in a move that’s likely to decrease the number of people jailed for theft.

2 – Decriminalizing truancy

3 – Ending the ‘pick-a-pal’ system for selecting grand juries, which allowed judges to pick people they knew and the same people to serve on juries again and again.

Changes that keep defendants out of jail are to be welcomed. In the past, Texas jailed too many people for minor crimes. Once in jail, there are few mechanisms to rehabilitate prisoners and prevent them re-offending when they are released.

If you are facing a jail term in Austin, San Antonio or another city, it’s important to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer to help you. Call us today at (512) 474-4445.

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