A Failure in the Fourth Degree: Reforming the State Jail Felony System in Texas


I. The Legislature Should Provide Additional Funding to Support Pretrial Initiatives, Such as Responsive Interventions for Change (RIC)

In areas where pre-arrest diversion programs are not implemented, it is critical to improve local pretrial systems to ensure that people are not sitting unnecessarily in jail but are still held accountable, and that they have access to needed programs and services.

a. Texas should provide Diversion Program funding — grant funds available from TDCJ’s Community Justice Assistance Division (CJAD) — to help counties implement core pretrial intervention strategies, including:

  • Rapid referral to a specialty docket when someone is arrested for a state jail felony, and quick placement into pretrial programming or deferred adjudication. The longer someone waits in jail, the more likely it is that he or she will be committed to county or state jail instead of treatment and community supervision. Grant funds should include stipulations that courts achieve the following goals:
    • Reduce the length of confinement in county jail during pretrial phase;
    • Reduce the number of state and county jail commitments;
    • Reduce the number of probation revocations;
    • Reduce the length of supervision; and
    • Eliminate racial disparity in pretrial confinement, access to treatment services, and sentencing/revocation outcomes.
  • Connection with peer recovery coaches to help defendants on the path to recovery.
  • Access to community-based treatment or community supervision regardless of the number of prior offenses.
  • Implementation of Core Correctional Practices in the supervision of people charged with state jail felonies.
  • Opportunity for defendant to have charges dropped upon successful completion of program.

b. Separately, the Legislature should adequately fund the supervision of defendants placed in pretrial intervention programs for state jail felonies:

Current statute allows CJAD to provide discretionary grant funding to probation departments to develop and operate pretrial intervention programs. This funding currently amounts to $2.5 million per year through the end of 2019, allowing CJAD to support a very limited number of pretrial programs. The Legislative Budget Board should include defendants in pretrial intervention programs in the total number of individuals needing supervision when considering TDCJ’s biannual “Basic Supervision Funding” line item, and the State should fund pretrial supervision clients at the same rate as probation clients.

II. The Legislature Should Expand the Community Collaborative Model to Decrease Arrests and Improve Treatment Capacity

In 2017, the Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 292, which created a mental health matching grant program for justice system-involved individuals to reduce recidivism, arrests, and incarceration among people with mental illness. Grant applications were submitted by community collaboratives, which included a wide array of local stakeholders inside and outside the criminal justice system who identified specific community needs with respect to treatment capacity and local coordination. Grants included a local-match requirement. The Legislature should expand this model to address the rising rate of arrest in Texas for possession of controlled substance, as well as the high recidivism rate for state jail felonies. Grant recipients should be required to develop a strategic plan, identify treatment and coordination gaps, set state and county jail reduction targets, implement locally driven programming like pre-arrest diversion initiatives or other programs, and achieve targeted goals. Ultimately, the county and state will recoup costs through reductions in state jail and county jail commitments.

III. The Legislature Should Fund the Reentry Pilot to Improve Employment Prospects

In 2017, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 3130, which created a pilot program allowing courts to sentence people to short-term confinement in a state jail (with a minimum 90-day term), followed by 90 days in a communitybased vocational/cognitive behavioral program, and another 90 days of community supervision. This promising model addresses many of the limitations of the state jail system by ensuring that people receive meaningful programming and assistance with job placement, followed by supervision within the community to promote accountability and stability. The pilot closely models the original intent of the state jail model; however, it was not funded during Texas’ 2017 Legislative Session. A reasonable investment from the Legislature will help pilot counties realize the many benefits of the program, especially reductions in costly recidivism.

IV. The Legislature Should Improve Rehabilitative Services Within State Jails and Promote Post-Release Reentry Support

The recommendations listed above provide a strong blueprint for safely reducing state jail populations. But people will still be sent to state jail, and it is imperative that they receive meaningful services while incarcerated, followed by reentry support. The Texas Legislature should provide additional funding to TDCJ to augment vocational and substance use services within state jails, as well as funding for reentry support before and after release. The Legislature should also fund reentry case management for people in state jail who will require mental health services within the community upon release.