etcfizteca T. U ii U 11 Houston’s Mayor Kathy Whitmire got her MANDATE before the election. to TDC its first semblance of professionalism. He made many changes some for the better, some for the worse. The basic difference has been one of philosophy. Under the previous director, W. L. Estelle, TDC fought courtordered reforms with a vengeance. Most positive changes in TDC policy were made in the hopes that the changes would not work and that administrators could say, “I told you so,” to the courts and the media. They believed federal judges and legislators had no business in TDC, and they were not above sabotaging their own programs to prove their point. The new TDC administration had the advantage of bearing no responsiblity for TDC’s past. Consequently, officials felt no need to defend past administrations or policies. They were merely cleaning up other people’s messes. They could afford to cooperate without losing face; they could afford to make reforms work, for most agree that Texas prisons will be improved by the changes. And an improvement in the prison system, no matter its source, will look good for everyone involved. 2600 E. 7th St. Austin, Texas 447-4701 vegetarian food U U U ii U U Piecemeal Legislation THE PROBLEM of overcrowding is one that cannot be solved by better prison management. It is also a problem that will continue to plague the state’s criminal justice system, for there is no indication that the people of Texas are ready to re-evaluate and reconsider their liberal use of prisons to solve their crime problems. Part of the problem is in the public perception of the system itself. Most Texans are uneducated on the workings of the legal system; they know only what they get from the media. And the media aims its thrusts at public emotions. Murders, rapes, and armed robberies get the public’s attention and, thus, are good story material. A heinous crime committed by a recently paroled felon is good copy because it angers, frustrates, and frightens all at once. With this distorted view, it is no surprise that people complain about lenient courts, short prison sentences, and liberal parole laws. But no media report that Texas has one of the highest per-capita rates of incarceration in the country; only one non-southern state, Nevada, incarcerates a higher percentage of its population. Texas has the highest average-sentence length of any state, according to the Legislative Commission on Sentencing Practices and Procedures, and one of the highest averages of actual time served. In a “one-year later” study by the State Board of Pardons and Paroles, figures showed that, of inmates released during August and September 1983, 84.3 percent had not returned to prison, and only 1.7 percent were re-imprisoned for committing violent offenses., The public needs to see more than just the failures of its criminal-ju stice system. Many of the T DC’s current problems are directly attributable to the get-tough legislative session of 1977. That session passed the aggra vated statutes and the mandatory supervision laws, which were natural responses to a public demand for harsher punishment. Under the aggravated laws, offenders using or exhibiting a weapon in the commission of a crime must serve one-third of their sentences before parole consideration. The effect of the statute varies with length of sentence, but on a 20-year sentence, this means almost three more years in prison before parole eligibility. The effects of the aggravated law did not begin to show until years after it was passed. Eventually, the actual length of time served started increasing, with fewer offenders being released and the same number, or more, coming to prison. The aggravated law caused the prison population to swell to unprecedented levels. Treatment programs within the system became t.strained beyond limits; as TDC struggled to provide more bed space on existing units, support facilities such as showers and dining rooms, barely adequate for previous population levels, were unable to keep up with increasing demands. The aggravated law also had a profound effect on inmate attitudes. Those serving the tougher sentences had no incentive to behave. Unlike other prisoners, their parole eligibility dates were unaffected by their behavior, and TDC found itself ‘with a growing number of inmates who disregarded prison rules. TDC reports that inmates serving aggravated time are almost twice as likely to assault an officer . or another inmate as those serving non-aggravated time. For its part, the mandatory supervision law required every inmate released from prison to be under parole supervision. Like the aggravated law, this statute did not immediately affect the system. But as time passed, inmates who under the old law would have been discharged from prison were instead added to the case rolls of parole officers. Field officers’ caseloads were increased, which led to a lessening in the quality of parole supervision. The 1983 session created even more problems for the parole board. 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