Criminal justice reform in Texas and the U.S.

Residents in Texas who are accused of crimes may understandably feel afraid about the prospect of going to prison. Family members of defendants may also worry about this potential outcome. It is no surprise that there are many problems with prison life and the high number of people being sent to prisons. Fortunately, there are many steps being taken at both the state and the federal level to address excessive prison populations and the conditions in those facilities.

As explained by the Texas Civil Rights Program, some of the state efforts underway are focusing on things like improving the environmental conditions in prisons. Many institutions find inmates living in excessive heat or other oppressive conditions. Putting an end to solitary confinement is another stated goal for some. Improving the mental health screening and treatment opportunities for people in prisons is another priority.

At the federal level, the government has passed the First Step Act which is, as the name implies, just one part of a larger criminal justice reform initiative. At the time of the act being considered, the President touted Texas as an example of how criminal justice reform really can work while maintaining law and order. Since 2007, the prison population in Texas has dropped by an estimated 30,000 and eight prisons have been closed.

Some provisions in the First Step Act include increasing access to programs that both prepare people for reintegration to society upon release and allow them to reduce the amount of time they are in prisons.