Tag Archives: Lone Star Model

The Lone Star Model Part II: Criminal Justice

“The Lone Star Model Part II: Criminal Justice” seems an unlikely title for a post given Texas’ image as a hawkish, gun-toting “wild west” police state. Contrary to the heavy-handed, disciplinarian image of the state that consistently conducts the most inmate executions, Texas has reformed its justice system to be more clement and sensible.                                                           Don’t be mistaken though, the State of Texas still maintains its reputation for strict enforcement of the law and devotion to public safety. The reforms that have been enacted in Texas are carefully-calculated measures that don’t throw the baby out with the bath- water. The reforms are every bit as humanitarian as they are cost-effective, resulting not only in a fairer system but one that is less burdensome and cheaper to maintain.                                                            The beginning of such reforms came in 2003 with the passage into law of HB 2668 which stipulates that first-time drug possessors found with less than 1 gram of a controlled substance or less than 1 pound of marijuana be sentenced to “community supervision,” legal jargon for probation. The change not only saved largely non-violent offenders from horrifying prison experiences and the stigma of a criminal record with prison time but it may have saved the state roughly $117 million in the first 5 years of implementation. Granted, that figure is an estimate of the potential cost-savings made at the time of the bill’s passage into law. Still, the savings in taxpayer money alone is a compelling endorsement of the law not to mention the benefits reaped by the convicts, many of them young, one-time offenders.                                             According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Texas’ total incarceration rate declined from 757 per 100,000 population in 2003 to 636 per 100,000 in 2013, representing ten consecutive years of decline. The Texas legislature’s 2007 Justice Reinvestment Initiative marked an important turning point in corrections spending priorities; the initiative opted to devote $241 million to a variety of treatment and rehabilitation programs aimed at reducing recidivism rather than spending $523 million for new prison construction. Between 2006 and 2008, the parole approval rate increased slightly while at the same time the parole revocation rate decreased by 25%, resulting in more parolees and fewer parolees losing their parole and being sent back to prison.                                                                                       

The legislature of 2007 passed S.B. 103 which diverted youths convicted of misdemeanors away from the agency that handles juvenile delinquents, the Texas Youth Commission. Additionally, the law lowered the maximum age of persons permitted to be held in such institutions from 21 to 19 years. Importantly, the bill allocated money to county organizations that serve and treat misdemeaning youths through a variety of approaches other than incarceration. The result? During the period lasting from 2000 to 2010, the youth population incarcerated in all facilities (both private and public) dropped by 37%. Texas’ 2010 youth incarceration rate of 139 per 100,000 population was 34% lower than the U.S average of 210 per 100,000.                                              In 2009, the state established the Commitment Reduction Program, further realigning spending priorities toward community-based alternatives to incarceration at the county level. Importantly, this legislation is incentive-based, that is, the most cost-effective and recidivism-reducing programs earn the state’s funds. In 2011, the legislature devoted another $39 million to the program. Also in 2011, S.B. 653 consolidated the Texas Youth Commission and the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission, to create the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. This streamlining is not only more efficient in carrying out necessary functions and using funds, but it makes for a simpler, more transparent juvenile justice system. According to the Texas Department of Justice, arrests of juveniles declined by 27% during 2007-2011 and the incarcerated juvenile population decreased by 62% in the same period.

Texas’ private-sector sensibilities are also playing a role in this transformation. The Prison Entrepreneurship Program (PEP) was founded in 2004 by former New York financial professional, Catherine Rohr to prepare Texas inmates for re-entry into society. The faith-based program intentionally recruited inmates with histories in drug-dealing, hustling, and gang leadership who wanted to reform their lives. The program immerses the prisoners in an MBA curriculum, introduces them to business mentors, life-skills coaching, sets them up with a job placement program, and provides them with a re-entry care package.                                                  An independent study by Baylor University, found that 3-year recidivism rates for a control group of males released from Texas prisons was 24% compared to 6.9% for PEP grads. Some other key findings include PEP graduates’ 95% employment versus the national ex-con employment rate of 50%; 20% of PEP grads were on public assistance as opposed to 45% of the general ex-con population;  The study found the program’s ROI (return on investment) by taking into account the costs of re-incarceration prevented by the reduced recidivism of graduates, the taxes generated by the newly-minted entrepreneurs, the cost savings from a decreased reliance on public assistance, and the increase in child-support payments. The study found the ROI for every dollar invested in PEP to be $0.74 after the 1st year of a graduate’s re-entry, $2.07 after 3 years, and $3.40 after 5 years.                                                                                                                           While PEP is certainly the most successful rehabilitation prison program in Texas, other rehab programs, ranging from faith-based to substance-abuse correction to motivational speaking directives have an important impact on reducing recidivism and improving the outcomes of ex-convicts as they return to free society.                                                                                                            The best part of all these reforms? Crime rates continue on their roughly 20 year nationwide descent. In 2000 the violent crime rate in Texas was 544.8 per 100,000 population. In 2010 the violent crime rate in Texas was 450.6 per 100,000 population.

 

The Lone Star Model Part I: The Rise of Public-Private Infrastructure

The Texas M.O. is largely characterized by private-sector involvement in roles normally associated with government. In Texas, the private sector and government engage with each other on a wide variety of projects. There are two spheres in which this collaboration is most evident: education and infrastructure. The private and public sectors have a longer and more established relationship working on infrastructure projects that on education initiatives.                     Some of the most ambitious projects in this fast-growing mega-state of over 26 million people underway today are a direct outgrowth of this public-private cooperation. Yes, this phenomenon is important because it is a growing trend across the United States, in regions of all ideological stripes .                                                                                                                                           The Texas Legislature legally and officially recognized Public-Private Partnerships (3Ps) on September 1, 2011 with the passage of S.B. 1048Public and Private Facilities and Infrastructure Act. In that document, the Texas Facilities Commission defines a public-private partnership as:

 A public-private partnership is a contractual agreement between a public agency (federal, state or local) and a private sector person or entity organized for the purpose of timely delivering services or facilities in a cost-effective manner that might not otherwise be possible using traditional sources of public financing.                                                                                

      The law makes clear what types of projects are suitable for a 3P, the guidelines for submitting those proposals, and the criteria on which the Texas Facilities Commission will evaluate said proposals.                                                                                                                                       When most people read “Public-Private Projects” as it relates to infrastructure, images of toll roads come to mind. It is important to point out that according to TxDOT, no existing public road will be converted to a toll road without voter approval. TxDOT makes clear, however, that existing roads may add new capacity in the form of toll lanes.                                                                      This is precisely what is being done with the LBJ Express Project. For those unfamiliar with the LBJ corridor, it’s a major corridor for intranational and international trucking and it serves as a major artery for Dallas area commuters and residents. This road is aged and new capacity is badly needed. Instead of resorting to the usual “raise taxes on the average citizen” routine to add more capacity, Cintra (a Spanish company) was contracted to build and manage elevated toll lanes. The rates for the tolls will be set according to a flexible, congestion pricing model in which the toll reflects the demand during the time of day. Tolls will be highest during rush hour and lowest during non-peak hours. Additionally, the frontage roads of LBJ will be widened and continuous. All told, the project will upgrade LBJ’s capacity from the 180,000 vehicles/day it was originally designed to support to the 500,000 vehicles/day expected by 2020, an upgrade from t. The best part of all is that taxpayers won’t be on the hook for the project.                                                Other major freeways adding managed lanes include: SH 183, North Tarrant Express (NTE),  and SH 130. While the full results of these projects remain to be seen, they show great promise in providing users with safe, efficient, and affordable means of travel on Texas highways.                                                                                                                                                                  Besides constructing toll roads, the private sector is finding other ways to get involved with Texas’ roads. In a recent pilot project in Houston, TxDOT had private companies bid for a maintenance contract. In the end, taxpayers saved $10 million on upkeep and maintenance of portions of I-35 and I-45 when a private firm did the work instead of TxDOT.                                            SpaceX, the brainchild of tech-entrepreneur Elon Musk, recently announced that it would build a private launch site at Boca Chica Beach in South Texas. In September, construction on the facility began and the public learned more about the financing of the project. As it turns out, SpaceX will receive an additional $2.3 million from the Texas Entrepreneur Fund and $13 million from a local development corporation. It seems Texas is taking PPPs out of this world (*insert chuckle).                                                                                                                                                                    A perennially troubled undertaking in Texas is the development of commuter rail between its large metropolitan areas. The feasibility of such projects is questionable, but I will not get into that now. Currently, the Japanese company that built the highly-successful Shinkansen network of bullet trains is working with Texas Central Railway to develop plans for a high-speed train connecting Houston and Dallas. It will certainly be interesting to see what becomes of the project.                                                                                                                                                                      One thing is for sure, transportation infrastructure in the State of Texas is undergoing an important transformation led by private-sector innovations in the way people get around. Maybe the rest of the nation should take note.