The cartoon Stop the Cycle Reform the System, published on December 28, 2014, highlights the recidivism problem in Alabama prisons: a tendency in which prisoners relapse into previous conditions especially criminal behavior (“Definition of Recidivism”). An article published by the Alabama Editorial Board calls for the people of Alabama to take a stand and help start a reform movement to better the state’s prison system (“Our View: Action is…”). This article addresses issues of recidivism, appropriate treatment facilities for parolees, and overflowing prisons – the same concerns that are also addressed in an article by Michael Haugen discussing the Texas prison systems within the recent years. The “revolving door” is used as a metaphor for the constant cycle into which so many inmates fall victim. Revolving Door Syndrome is a term used in criminal justice systems to reference recidivism (“Definition of Recidivism”). Most offenders walk out of the prison doors only to walk right back in due to the lack of treatment facilities available for offenders who have been granted parole. This cartoon calls for system reform in order to stop this never-ending cycle.
In 2007, the Texas Legislature estimated that within “five years the state would need to build as many as 17,000 additional prison beds to keep pace with the growing incarceration” (Haugen). The estimated budget was around $2 billions, which the legislature deemed too costly (Haugen). So, in order to help minimize the number of prisoners, the legislature decided to reform the prison system by looking into the causes of prison growth and recidivism. After interviewing many criminal justice workers, they found most non-violent offenders were sent to prison because there was not a better alternative. Many of these offenders happened to be on wait lists for drug court or mental health problems, making it difficult for them to find effective treatment (Haugen). Lawmakers also found that the Board of Pardons and Paroles had been granting parole to barely any offenders because they felt inmates were not receiving appropriate rehabilitative treatment within the prison system (Haugen).
To counteract the problem of overflowing prisons, Texas Legislators proposed a package to prevent prison expansion and improve treatment programs while keeping the public safe. The first wave of reform brought “800 new residential substance abuse treatment beds and 3,000 more outpatient substance abuse treatment slots” (Haugen). The second wave of the reform included the addition of “2,700 substance abuse treatment beds behind bars, 1,400 new intermediate sanction beds (a short-term program for those offenders who commit technical violations), and 300 halfway-house beds” (Haugen). Lawmakers also decided to cap parole caseload at 75 to make sure there was adequate supervision from supervisors for the parolees. Instead of opening up more prisons, this package gave the Texas Legislators a more affordable option to help solve the problem of growing incarceration (Haugen).
While this package did reduce incarceration rate and closed three prisons, Texas still has a long way to go. “The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, 25 percent of that being prisoners” and Texas accounts for the highest rate of incarceration compared to any other state (Henson). There are still 109 prison facilities all over Texas and over half contain offenders locked up for non-violent crimes (Henson). According to two researchers from the Institute of Urban Policy Research and Analysis at The University of Texas at Austin, the number of people behind bars actually increased in 2013 despite the closing of prisons (Dunklee and Larsen). Texas has also not implemented any reforms to help solve their racial disparity problem in the state’s prisons for “African Americans comprise 35 percent of prison populations despite comprising only 12.4 percent of the state’s population” (Dunklee and Larsen). Furthermore, many African Americans, as well as other minorities, are imprisoned at higher rates than their white counterparts even if they commit the same crimes.
These cries for reform mirror those from Texas citizens in 1937, when the State of Texas tried to reform the prison system by giving new power to the Board of Pardons and Paroles to help supervise offenders while on parole as well as helping released inmates better adapt to society after being discharged. The editorial accompanying John Knott’s cartoon published in the Dallas Morning News on April 8, 1937, discusses how “[t]he Texas State prison system is open to enough criticism” thus the prisoners entitled to pardon or parole need to be granted those benefits (“Pardons Deadlock”). While the reform movement in the 1930’s did improve the system, the issues of supervision and treatment facilities for inmates on parole carried on into the early 2000’s. Even though another reform movement took place in 2007, still many people argue for another reform campaign today.
Reformers today call for improvement of prison facilities and racial impact statements. To help with the state’s racial disparity problem, reformers feel a racial impact statement; “a statement for lawmakers to evaluate potential disparities of proposed legislation prior to adoption and implementation”, for all criminal justice policies, practices, and proposals is necessary (Porter). Also, some citizens feel the lack of opportunity for communities of color as well as racialized law enforcement in Texas needs to be addressed by lawmakers (Dunklee and Larsen). The improvement of prison facilities has also been a topic of reform, as 75 percent of Texas’s prisons have no air conditioning in the inmates’ living facilities (McCullough). This is seen as cruel and unusual punishment by many citizens and has resulted in “23 deaths and hundreds of illnesses related to heat in Texas prisons since 1998” (McCullough).
Overall, the Texas prison system has seen many reforms and will continue to be reformed in the future. The problem of recidivism and adequate treatment options for offenders has improved but still can be refined in order to better the system. Additionally, while reforms have been made to help non-violent offenders, violent offenders still are subject to unfair treatment from parole boards across the country that do not want to risk their jobs by being responsible for releasing a “violent” inmate (Ewing). Recidivism, conditions of prison facilities and racial disparity are issues Texas still faces today, and the state has a long road of reform ahead in order to address these concerns. These issues were prevalent in 1937 and will continue to be problems until serious reform actions are taken.
Board, AL.com Editorial. “Our View: Action Is Required and Prison Reform Must Start with New Leadership for Alabama’s Prisons.” AL.com, 28 Dec. 2014, www.al.com/opinion/index.ssf/2014/12/action_overdue_prison_reform_m.html.
Definition of Recidivism . www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/recidivism.
Dunklee, Caitlin, and Rebecca Larsen. “Setting the Record Straight on Texas.” UT News | The University of Texas at Austin, 11 Aug. 2015, news.utexas.edu/2015/08/10/setting-the-record-straight-on-texas-prison-reform.
Ewing, Maura. “Why So Few Violent Offenders Are Let Out on Parole.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 29 Aug. 2017, www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/why-so-few-violent-offenders-are-let-out-on-parole/538305/.
Haugen , Michael. “Ten Years of Criminal Justice Reform in Texas.” Right on Crime, 2 Aug. 2017, rightoncrime.com/2017/08/ten-years-of-criminal-justice-reform-in-texas/.
Henson, Scott. “Raising the Bars for Texas Criminal Justice Reform.” The Texas Observer, 28 Feb. 2017, www.texasobserver.org/raising-the-bars-criminal-justice-reform/.
McCullough, Jolie. “Heat Is Part of Life at Texas Prisons, but Federal Judge Orders One to Cool It.” The Texas Tribune, Texas Tribune, 20 July 2017, www.texastribune.org/2017/07/20/texas-prison-heat-air-conditioning-lawsuit/.
“Pardons Deadlock .” Dallas Morning News, 8 Apr. 1937, Dallas Morning News Newspaper Archive Database, Readex, infoweb.newsbank.com/iw-search/we/HistArchive/?p_productpp. 2–2.
Porter , Nicole D. “Racial Impact Statements.” The Sentencing Project, 1 Dec. 2014, www.sentencingproject.org/publications/racial-impact-statements/.