The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.
Twenty-five years ago, Texas lawmakers created a new state jail system designed to keep low-level drug offenders out of overcrowded prisons.
Unlike in state prisons, inmates convicted of nonviolent drug offenses would spend less time in jail and more time getting rehabilitative services while on probation, a period of time where an offender is released from detention and is supervised to ensure good behavior.
But advocates and lawmakers say the system has failed. Attitudes about criminal justice shifted soon after the system was put in place. The state began using the jails as way stations for inmates convicted of more serious crimes on their way to state prisons. Few rehabilitative services were made available in state jails, and the low-level offenders who went to the facilities have been rearrested at a higher rate than the general prison population.
Now, a quarter-century later, lawmakers are hoping this year will be an opportunity for reform.