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George W. Bush at the Republican state convention ANGELA HARDIN on the largest prison-building program ever undertaken in this country, will be hard-pressed to build more prisons. There are 75,000 new cells, 39;000 of which have been built this year, Richards spokesperson Cindy Rugeley said in response to Bush’s claim that more prison space is needed. And by the time the expansion is completed in 1995, the capacity of the system will have nearly doubled, reaching 140,000 beds. If George. W. is, as he said in April, “hard-nosed on adult criminals because I believe most of them are beyond rehabilitation,” then more prison beds will be needed. That means greater bonded indebtedness and then a larger commitment of each fiscal year’s general revenuefor the interminable incarceration of people. \(It will, no doubt, reduce the rate of recidiwill be funded. Not only does Bush intend to fill the state’s prisons from the top down, his proposal to try 14-year-olds as adults will fill prisons from the bottom up. Occasionally, during an election campaign, a reporter will find the time that is required to explore the particulars and consequences of the daily grist in the campaign mill. Miriam Rozen, of the Dallas Observer, in what is clearly the best single piece written on Bush so far, did so in March. She went first to Bush’s white paper on crime, which, she reports, “offers an example of the kind of heinous crimes 14-year-olds are committing.” “In Bexar County, police arrested a 14year-old boy for the slaying of a part-time security guard. The security guard had gone out to empty some trash when he was shot in cold blood. This juvenile offender cannot be-tried as an adult, because state law now says only offenders age 15 or older can be tried as adults,” Bush’s staff wrote. When Rozen looked behind Bush’s white paper, she found that the juvenile whose case was cited was indeed a “thug,” as Bush had characterized him. “But the child offender Bush cites, whose previous record showed just one misdemeanor assault, a scuffle at school, was essentially orphaned. His mother was dead, a probable suicide victim his attorney said; his father is a graduate of the Texas prison system. “Since arriving in detention four months ago, the juvenile has received visits only from his lawyer and his probation officer. The first lawyer the court assigned to his case failed to show up at detention hearings scheduled every seven days for two months. Finally, the courts assigned another lawyer. ‘He is a thug,’ says his defense attorney, John Young. But, his recently assigned counsel asks, has he ever had a chance to be anything else?” Even without being tried as an adult, Rozen wrote, the offender, if found guilty, would not be back on the streets; as Bush suggests. “He most likely will receive a determinate sentencebe shipped to TYC until shortly before he turns 18, when a judge will decide whether to transfer him the adult system to serve out the remainder of a 40-year sentence.” Rozen also describes a Texas Youth Commission program at Giddings, where young capital offenders participate in extensive rehabilitation. “Since 1988, she wrote, “more than 100 kids have participated in the program, which includes 16 weeks of intensive group-therapy sessions. The child killers are required to act out their slayings, playing both them selves and their victims. So far, TYC officials have tracked 50 juveniles released through the program; they have a 20-percent re-arrest rate a year after leaving the .system, compared to 40 percent for those who haven’t been treated.” Even if you dismiss Rozen’s pitch for the Giddings program, and her argument, that “sentencing a 14-year-old to the adult prison system for life would be giving up on someone who was too young to know better,” Bush’s plan to incarcerate young thugs doesn’t wash. If elected, Bush will need to talk to a penologist and an accountant, not a social worker, before he comes close to the “accountability” he is so fond of citing in speeches and position papers. The Governor’s campaign staff at least took a stab at costing out Bush’s plan to reform juvenile justice, and came up with the figure of $1.4 billion in new state revenue. “Totally absurd,” replied Bush. But he said he does not know what the plan will cost. Bush’s most recent move is an assault on the new Texas Penal Code, which went into effect on September 1. The law, passed during the last legislative session, defines certain non-violent crimes as “fourth-degree felonies.” It was clearly designed to keep non-violent offenders out of jail and in rehabilitation and to reduce recidivismthus opening up more jail space for violent offenders, for whom it mandates longer minimum sentences. Bush has focused on a provision that allows mandatory probation, which can include a mix of jail time and drug rehabilitation for drug users or dealers. “The bottom line of Ann Richards new law is that instead of putting drug dealers behind bars, we are sending them back to our streets and neighborhoods,” Bush said of the bipartisan law that passed with overwhelming support in both legislative chambers. You can expect to hear the line repeated as the campaign continues. WHAT IS CLEAR is that George W. Bush’s vision doesn’t extend too far beyond November 8 and has a lot more to do with winning an election than it does with what he sometimes calls “running Texas.” In the place of vision, there are platitudes about Texas as a place where dreamers can dream, as a haven for entrepreneurs and a beacon statecomplemented by a campaign that exacerbates the very problem it promises to solve. How did we end up with this guy? Tom Luce is a thoughtful lawyer and was mentioned as a Republican candidate. Where is he when we need him? Weatherford State Representative Ric Williamson is a Republican now and at least he thinks. Does Jack Kemp have a son? L.D. THE TEXAS OBSERVER .5 .