The GOP could cut Texas jail and prison populations and save taxpayers millions

Photo by Todd Wiseman

Texas Young Republicans represent the entire spectrum of the Republican Party. Because of this, sometimes finding agreement on specific policy can be tough. There can be a lot of differences on how Republican principles should become policy. The one area where we see overwhelming support is criminal justice reform.

That is why this year the Texas Young Republican Federation chose to lead the way by sponsoring a slate of planks for the Republican Party of Texas platform.

In total, Texas Young Republicans offered 16 suggested planks at their precinct conventions across the state after the primary:

  1. Protect citizens’ location data by requiring a warrant based on probable cause for governments to request access except in the case of an immediate, life threatening situation. We also urge that appropriate policies be enacted regarding the disclosure or sale of data.
  2. Abolish the Texas Driver Responsibility Program. Currently, citizens can be charged multiple times through this program on top existing fines and it has led to 1.2 million Texans losing their license due to financial hardship.
  3. Disclose how much military grade material local law enforcement receives and require a local governing body to approve requests made for such material. Proper oversight from a local body can help ensure these officers are receiving what they need to protect Texans
  4. Replace criminal penalties with a civil penalty for small amounts of marijuana. Every year approximately 70,000 Texans are arrested for marijuana possession. This costs taxpayers millions of dollars.
  5. Expand the Texas Compassionate Use Act for medical cannabis and reduce excessive licensing fees for dispensaries. Many families and veterans believe cannabis can assist them with certain ailments and should be able to make decisions along with their doctors on this issue.
  6. Eliminate Civil Asset Forfeiture and replace it with Criminal Asset Forfeiture. Due process is a fundamental ideal of the American justice system.
  7. Eliminate arrests for non-jailable offenses. A study in Harris County showed that 11 percent of all arrests were for non-jailable offenses, primarily traffic violations.
  8. Ensure data is used concerning risk when considering a defendant's pre-trial release. Bail allows high-risk individuals with financial means to be released, but keeps low-risk poor people in prison for months or years awaiting their day in court.
  9. Raise the age of criminal responsibility from 17 to 18 years old. Teens prosecuted in an adult system are more likely to reoffend and become violent offenders.
  10.  Require written or recorded consent before searching a person or vehicle and inform them that they may decline the search.
  11.  Expand “use of force reporting” for police departments. Well-trained officers are the best officers. Proper reporting can alert officials to problems and help avoid troubling situations.
  12.  Close private prisons and consolidate the current inmate populations. Crime is down, so consolidating facilities will save money for the taxpayers and create a safer system.
  13.  Close the five remaining youth prison facilities and move inmates to smaller local facilities.
  14.  Reclassify possession of very small quantities of addictive drugs from a felony to Class A misdemeanor and use some of the savings to support increased access to drug treatment.
  15.  Properly fund public defenders. The Texas Association of Counties cites indigent defense costs as one of the biggest unfunded mandates driving up local property taxes.
  16.  End debtor's prison in Texas. Many are forced to serve jail time for “fine only” citations because they can’t afford to pay. This “pay or stay” practice costs taxpayers an average of $59 per prisoner.

The Texas Young Republicans look forward to continuing to push these ideas for reform with the Republican Party of Texas. If all of these ideas were placed into law, we would see our prison population cut in half. Taxpayers would save millions and we would all be a little safer. We are proud to be a part of a big tent party where ideas start at the bottom from people like us. Whether it is through platform changes, events like our Millennial Caucus at the Republican Party of Texas convention in June, or just one-on-one conversations. we are shaping the future of the GOP.

Jason Vaughn

SREC liaison, Texas Young Republicans