Many Texans who are released from jail may find themselves behind bars again in the future, but a bill in the state Legislature is hoping to change that.
On Friday, state representatives passed House Bill 930, which would create a board to deliver a recidivism report every other year. Filed by DeSoto state Rep. Carl O. Sherman Sr., the bill would detail re-arrest, reconviction and reincarceration rates in the hopes of keeping previously incarcerated Texans from returning to jail.
Sherman told the Observer he’s excited the bill passed.
“I think it will mean a lot for our returning citizens who come out of our prison,” he said. “I don’t think anyone dreams about or has aspirations of going to prison when they’re a kid, and yet we are not keeping a central standard study of recidivism for the state.”
The report would include details on statewide and county rates. In addition, it would provide information on Texans who previously served time in county jail and on those who were rearrested, reconvicted or reincarcerated in other states.
After the reports are generated, they’ll be sent to state lawmakers, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott, according to a press release.
In a tweet Thursday, Sherman thanked Democratic state Reps. Jarvis Johnson, who’s from Houston, and Austin’s Eddie Rodriguez for signing on as joint authors. Fort Worth state Rep. Nicole Collier, who chairs the state’s Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, is another joint author, as is Rio Grande City state Rep. Ryan Guillen.
In one study, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that more than two-thirds of prisoners were rearrested within three years; in nine years, that number shoots to 83%. In Texas specifically, though, the numbers are better: 21.4% of prisoners return behind bars within three years, according to the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC).
Yet those rates vary depending on the category, said Devin Driver, a policy analyst with TCJC. People in substance abuse felony punishment facilities, for instance, have a recidivism rate of 42%, she said.
Sherman asked Driver’s organization to testify on the bill, and they did an analysis on it. She said the proposed report would provide more encompassing data that will ultimately help lawmakers know what practices are working to reintegrate former prisoners back into their communities.
“The more information we have, the better we can really approach things versus going off of old reports or recidivism rates that don’t necessarily encompass all charges,” she said.
The state’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, NAMI Texas, also tweeted in support of Sherman’s bill. Lack of access to mental health care is a determinant in whether certain people return to jail.
Many incarcerated Texans have struggles with mental health, said Matthew Lovitt, a peer policy fellow with NAMI Texas; in fact, those with mental health concerns are “significantly overrepresented” in the criminal justice system.
Police are often called when someone undergoes a mental health crisis, Lovitt said. From there, that person may not be in a state where they are able to comply with commands, making the problem even worse.
Often, that condemns a person experiencing a crisis to a least a period of confinement, he said. Prisoners’ mental health can worsen in jail if they aren’t provided treatment, and so they might come out worse than they came in, he said. Then, if they can't access the care they need in the community, the vicious cycle may begin again.
Sherman said the state currently has “very fragmented information” on recidivism rates, but this bill could help that.
“Hopefully we will have this down to a science and be able to ensure that fewer people have to repeat going to prison,” he said.
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