It is hard to believe that it has been well over a year since I was appointed to be the Chair of the House Committee on Corrections. The Corrections Committee is responsible for the safe incarceration of those who have broken our most serious laws, their rehabilitation upon re-entering society, and maintaining due process throughout the entire timeline.
During the 83rd Regular Legislative Session, the committee diligently worked to tackle many of our correctional challenges in Texas. By the end of the session, we had considered more than 85 bills in public hearings, with 25 of these bills continuing on to become state law. Some of the most important issues that we addressed included longer incarceration times for the most violent criminals in our correctional system, improving the collection of restitution from offenders who have finished their sentence but still owe court ordered compensation to their victims, reforming boot camps, and prohibiting offenders from filing frivolous lawsuits that waste taxpayer money.
While I believe that the Corrections Committee succeeded in addressing many of our state’s top challenges within our correctional system last legislative session, our work is not yet done. In order to continue looking at ways to improve the correctional process in our state, the committee will be holding several public hearings on a multitude of topics over the next few months.
These hearings allow the committee to continue reviewing the state agencies that fall within the committee’s jurisdiction as well as monitor the implementation of legislation passed last session. They also help to give lawmakers a better sense of where our correctional process stands today, and what further reforms are necessary to make our system as efficient as possible while keeping the safety of Texas citizens our top priority.
During April, the Corrections Committee held its first round of interim hearings for the year. Our first hearing was a joint hearing with the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence on mental illness and substance use disorders among inmates from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. It is estimated that approximately 4 percent of people in Texas suffer from serious mental illnesses, with only 21 percent of that population currently being served by a state mental health agency. Unfortunately, many who lack the proper care are finding themselves in jail or prison. Experts from all across the state provided the committee with data and testimony on how we can best find solutions for this population both within the system and upon release with the limited resources that we currently have.
Following the joint hearing, the Corrections Committee took up the important topic of outcome-based financing models that allow the state to partner with private investors and innovative service providers within the juvenile justice arena. Much of the discussion centered on what it would look like for the Texas Juvenile Justice Department to establish Pay-for-Performance programs. These programs would give private investors the opportunity to provide operating funds for initiatives that have the potential to prevent or mitigate serious social problems while saving government revenue.
Already much of the private sector is greatly involved in the state’s corrections system, whether that be through providing cheaper electricity to our facilities or establishing a business entrepreneurship program that provides career training to offenders. I strongly believe that many of our correctional challenges in the state could be best addressed with a business-minded approach, and I look forward to continuing this discussion during the next legislative session.
Several other Corrections interim hearings that will take place in the coming months will cover such topics as the appropriate mix of rehabilitation, probation and incarceration time, how to best make vocation training, education, parole supervision, and reentry initiatives more efficient and effective, what the cost trends are within the Correctional Managed Health Care system, and what effects truancy laws in Texas are having on our youth. Each hearing will provide the committee with the insight and data that we need to make recommendations to the full House chamber for the upcoming 84th Legislative Session.
Like the Corrections Committee, each standing committee within the Texas House of Representatives will be holding hearings throughout the interim on topics of most importance to Texas. The hearings enable state lawmakers to thoroughly review, critique and recommend legislative changes for the next session, and represent a critical component of our legislative process. If you would like more information about upcoming hearings, you can either contact my Capitol office at 512.463.0688, or you can go to http://www.house.state.tx.us/committees/.
As always, it is an honor to serve you in the Texas House of Representatives and I welcome your feedback on this and any other critical state issues. If you would like to share a thought with me, please feel free to contact me at my Capitol office at 512.463.0688 or by e-mail at [email protected]