16 Apr

Coming out of prison “a better person” than when you went in is the promise of Texas legislator John Whitmire, who, as Olivia Nuzzi writes for the Daily Beast, is the longest-serving member of the Texas State Senate and one of the “architects” of prison reform in that state.

And, so far, it seems to be working. Nuzzi’s title: “Prison reform is bigger in Texas,” and what she means by that is that Texas has apparently saved billions of dollars by not building new prisons and, in fact, by shutting some prisons down. Texas, a tough on crime state, until now would never have been seen as a leader in the prison reform movement.

After all, as Gov. Rick Perry said: “Texas is still tough on crime. Don’t come to Texas if you want to kill somebody.” But the state has saved a ton of money and made headway in helping nonviolent offenders convicted of certain crimes, like drug offenses. Nuzzi writes that Texas has put money into special drug courts, rehabilitation and probation – rather than continuing to focus, as it long had, on locking people up for as long as possible.

Still, there’s plenty to be cynical about in Perry’s tacit support of prison reform. Not only are people like Whitmire the real “first-movers” on prison reform, but it’s likely that reform would never have become an issue in the first place if it hadn’t been for money. Government budgets have been tight in many areas of the nation for some years now. An effort at rehabilitation, i.e. helping people caught up in the criminal justice system, is first a moral issue. It’s simply the right thing to do.

Unless, of course, you’re looking for a budget surplus. Then it’s just good finance.