Congress models new legislation after Texas prison reforms

Published: Dec. 11, 2013 at 11:18 PM CST|Updated: Dec. 12, 2013 at 2:27 AM CST
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Amarillo, TX - Texas prison reforms are influencing federal legislation in Congress.

United States Senator John Cornyn is modeling the Federal Prison Reform Act after Texas reforms that release non-violent and low-risk offenders back into the community.

Overcrowded prisons are a costly burden to taxpayers. A former warden at the Clements Unit in Amarillo said Texas figured that out earlier than most states. "We had two massive waves of prison construction that took our prison beds well over 100,000," said former warden Keith Price. "But once you get to a prison system that size, the cost to keep it running is just phenomenal."

About ten years ago, Texas started using a safety risk assessment model to combat overcrowding and overspending. The model assesses the risk level offenders pose to the community just as an insurance company measures a drivers risk on the road. "So a guy that maybe committed a murder 30 or 40 years ago, well maybe he was really dangerous then, but now he's 65," said Price. "Is he really dangerous? He's really sick so the tax payers are spending a fortune on him. So does he really need to be in a high security prison bed? There's probably better places for him."

Early releases are possible because of community organizations that provide reintegration training and support like Bridges to Life in Amarillo."We'll go in there and teach them how to live, teach them how to change their lives, and teach them how to be productive citizens so they get out and don't make the same mistakes again," said Bridges to Life regional coordinator Tac Buchanan.

Bridges to life helps about 500 inmates in the Amarillo area each year. Similar organizations across the state provide many of these programs at no cost to taxpayers. "The more of these kinds of rehabilitation efforts you can do, keep the offender in the community and help them work through whatever it is that caused them to be a deviant and to be a criminal," said Price. "The more of that you can do in a community, the better for the taxpayers and the better for the offenders."

If passed, the Federal Prison Reform Act will implement risk assessment and reintegration programs across the country within the next five years.

Madison Alewel - NewsChannel 10