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Jerry Madden: Texas did well with justice reinvestment

Do West Virginia taxpayers want to keep spending more and more on state prisons while lagging behind the rest of the country in crime reduction?

That's an important question for Mountain State.policymakers.

For three years, West Virginia has led all states in its average annual prison population growth.

Yet while crime fell 19 percent nationally from 2003 to 2011, it has not dropped in West Virginia. And unless West Virginia changes course, its prison population will increase by another 24 percent over the next six years, at a cost of an additional $150 million.

As a conservative Republican leader from Texas, I can tell you that when we faced similar challenges six years ago, we made choices and cut crime and costs dramatically.

In Texas, we too had been rapidly expanding our prisons without seeing an improvement in our crime rate compared to other states.

After looking at years of research, we found that focusing prison space on violent and career criminals and directing funds to proven alternatives for lower-level offenders would yield  greater results for public safety.

So that's what we did: We stopped our astronomically expensive prison-building spree and instead steered a much smaller investment into additional parole and probation officers, and evidence-based programs like specialty courts and short-term residential treatment facilities.

The results have been remarkable. The rate at which parolees are revoked back to prison has been cut in half. The overall state crime rate has fallen to levels we haven't seen since the 1960s.

Meanwhile, taxpayers have avoided nearly all of the $2 billion in projected corrections costs, and we even were able to close a state prison - the first time that's happened in Texas history.

Now, West Virginia is considering a similar policy shift.

The state's bipartisan Justice Reinvestment Working Group has drafted a sound policy framework that is estimated to save taxpayers millions while reinvesting a small portion of the savings into substance abuse treatment for people on community supervision.

That makes a great deal of sense. As much as 80 percent of parole revocations involve substance abuse, yet West Virginia currently funds no treatment for offenders under supervision.

In West Virginia, as in Texas, conservative principles demand that spending actually deliver results in the most proven, cost-effective way.

Based on those core beliefs, conservative leaders like Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich, Grover Norquist and David Keene have embraced a national campaign called "Right on Crime." It seeks to deliver more public safety at a lower cost to taxpayers through the kinds of proposals now being considered by the West Virginia legislature.

Being right on crime worked for Texas, and it can work for West Virginia as well.

Madden is former Republican chairman of the Corrections Committee of the Texas House of Representatives and a signatory of the Right on Crime campaign.



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