Weatherford Democrat

Viewpoints

January 16, 2014

Let the punishment fit the crime

By BILL HAMMOND

Since the beginning of 2013, the Texas Association of Business has been involved in the movement to reform our criminal justice system. Some might wonder why the business community cares about this issue.

There are three main reasons.

We spend somewhere between $2.5 and $3 billion a year incarcerating more people than any other state. Almost 140,000 people are in Texas prisons, another 11,000 are in state jails. That doesn’t count the 1 million admissions to county jail every year. In excess of 45 percent of those who are in prison are there for a non-violent and non-sexual offense. That population of non-violent offenders costs taxpayers $3.4 million per day. Since the business community collectively pays the majority of taxes, business owners will certainly pay attention to a big ticket item like this one.

Secondly, business owners are Texas residents too, and they care about public safety. They care particularly about being able to operate businesses in communities that are safe and secure.

The third reason is the availability of workers. Our emphasis at TAB is ensuring that, when appropriate, judges consider probation first for non-violent offenders, especially first-time non-violent offenders.

Probation offers a cost effective solution, $3 per day versus around $50 per day for incarceration. It also allows someone to continue working, paying bills, taxes, keeping up with child support and maintaining other financial and personal commitments.

Probation is not a walk in the park; in fact some people choose a short time in jail rather than probation because it is a long-term commitment under strict supervision. People on probation are subject to random drug testing, strict reporting requirements to a probation officer and the prospect of going to prison if they violate the terms of their probation.

This issue boils down to separating those we are mad at from those we are afraid of. Those whom we are afraid of, violent offenders, should be sent to prison and removed from society for a long time. We have always supported that. Those we are mad at, non-violent offenders, should be given the chance at probation first.

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