In Texas, state jail felons have the highest recidivism rates among all released inmates: over 33% of state jail felons will be convicted of a new crime after being released compared with 26% of regular prisoners. . Those familiar with Texas criminal law are well aware that our system is heavily based on the theory of negative incentives–commit a crime, and the government will punish you. The opposite idea, using positive incentives to reduce crime and reoffender rates, is seldom used, making a bill recently vetoed in Texas particularly important in the mission to reduce felon recidivism in Texas.
House Bill 1790 (HB 1790), introduced by Texas State Representative Oscar Longoria, proposed allowing state jail felons who have successfully completed probation to reduce the felony charge on their record to a Class A misdemeanor. In order to take advantage of HB 1790, the defendant would need to successfully meet all probation terms, and then petition the court to reduce their conviction seventy days prior to the end of their probation period. The defendant would be informed of the reduction incentive by their judge during sentencing. HB 1790 excluded state felons who have committed assaults, domestic violence or other “crimes against persons” from reducing their records under HB 1790.
Supporters had high hopes that HB 1790, which was backed by organizations such as the Texas Public Policy Foundation, would help alleviate overwhelming state jail populations, reduce the expense of prisoner healthcare and, most importantly, motivate defendants to successfully complete probation requirements–including paying full restitution to victims and their families. The incentive for felons: a life without a haunting felony record.
Unsurprisingly, HB 1790 proved to be popular in both the House and Senate, passing through the House of Representatives with a vote of 88 to 45. However, hopes for a chance at a felony-free record were at least temporarily ended on June 14, 2013 when Texas Governor Rick Perry vetoed the popular bill. In explaining Perry’s veto of the bill, the governor’s office stated that “[t]he intent of House Bill 1790 can already be achieved under current law. A mechanism already exists to prosecute a state jail felony as a Class A misdemeanor in circumstances where the prosecutor sees fit. Adding the option to reduce the conviction at the back end of a case will cause additional and unnecessary court procedures, reduce judicial efficiency, and add to the costs of our criminal justice system.”. Marc Levin, Director of the Center for Effective Justice commented on the veto, “This legislation, modeled after an effective law in Utah, provides an important incentive for those on probation to successfully complete all of the terms of their supervision, including paying any restitution owed to a victim. Research has shown that such incentives result in a 46% increase in compliance with probation conditions, which benefits public safety, victims, taxpayers, and offenders…this bill [would] build on Texas’ recent success in cost-effectively cutting crime.”
With the popular support that HB 1790 attained in the House and Senate, Texans concerned with inmate rehabilitation, prison costs and public safety can hope that a similar bill will successfully be introduced and approved by the next Governor of Texas in the future.
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Gilbert Garcia has been Passionately Pursuing Justice for over 30 years and founded The Gilbert G. Garcia Law Firm in 2008. The Gilbert G. Garcia Law Firm is a boutique law firm, specializing in Criminal Defense. Gilbert represents adults and juveniles accused of a crime and who have with a felony, misdemeanor or record cleaning case. Conveniently located on the courthouse square to serve Montgomery and Walker Counties. Gilbert became Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in 1989. The Gilbert G. Garcia Law Firm is located at 220 N. Thompson St., Suite 202, Conroe, TX 77301. www.ggglawfirm.com.
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