Criminal Justice Policy in Texas

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Introduction

The United States is a federal system made of many states that enjoy significant autonomy. For instance, all states have independent tax systems, health care policies, and criminal justice doctrines. All states design their laws to ensure conformity and agreement with the provisions of the federal law.

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This paper will investigate Texas as far as criminal justice policy is concerned. The choice for criminal justice attributes to the fact that it is a broad area of law that has faced severe controversies in the United States. The investigation will also target Massachusetts’ case with the same policy area. The reason for choosing the two states attributes to the fact they reformed their approaches to the policy areas in the recent time. The comparison of policies with the same timeline may be reasonable than if choosing another state that has not changed its laws for many years. The choice of the two states was also necessary for deducing an understanding of the conservative aspects of the societies as far as the criminal justice system is concerned. It is worth noting that Democrats control the Massachusetts legislature while Republicans dominate the Texan politics. As such, it is expectable that most of the reforms may reflect the political leanings of the individual states. With the recent controversies in the criminal justice systems, it is expectable that the recent reforms may reflect a lot of issues covered by the federal system. This element of near similarities may ease comparison and lead to the identification of the differences and the impacts of changes. However, the fact that the two states just reformed their policies in the criminal justice system, there may be no significant impacts. Most of the effects of the changes to the justice system may be by inferences and assumptions. In the end, there will be suggestions on the necessary improvements on the Texan law to achieve the necessary gains. The suggestions will reflect the status of Massachusetts’ policies.

Explanation of criminal justice policy in Massachusetts

In 2018, Massachusetts state had the governor signed various laws intended to cut the rate of incarceration. The 121 pages bill has multiple policies that will divert many people to programming and treatment. The bill also seeks to improve the conditions of prisons. It also intends to support convicts to move with life after conviction. According to the Governor of the state, the bill requires $40 million in 2019 to facilitate the hiring of staff and buying of equipment as well as software to fulfill the goals (Murphy n.p).

The new statute eliminates many mandatory sentencings of individuals with minor drug offenses. It creates a procedure for the expungement of records of youths and juveniles incarcerated for crimes that are no longer illegal like possession of marijuana (Schoenberg n.p). Another fascinating thing with the bill is that it increases the least age of criminal accountability from seven to twelve years. Only juvenile delinquents aged 12 years and above can face trial in children courts. It also decriminalizes some minor crimes committed by juveniles. The new bill also recognizes the socioeconomic differences in the communities. As such, the bill advocates for the examination of a person’s ability to pay before issuing a fine or a fee. In the early system, low-income and needy people convicted for crimes could not leave jail before trial because of the inability to pay bails. Additionally, the statute raises the threshold for considering theft as a felony. Murphy discusses that the reformed law also increases the threshold for considering theft as a burglary to $1200 from $250 (n.p). Moreover, the recently signed code pushes for increased humane conditions for prisoners in solitary cells.

The new law increases and strengthens penalties for individuals implicated for trafficking opioids like carfentanil and fentanyl and repeated drunk driving. Nonetheless, the same law repeals many mandatory minimum convictions for low-level offenses involving drugs. The Massachusetts Governor Baker also signed another bill that developed from the examination of reoffending in the state (Murphy n.p). The statute improves the programming present in jails and prisons, fosters community oversight, and improved behavioral health facilities and resources. Another remarkable aspect of the law is the intention to divert youthful offenders and individuals with mental health problems or addiction from undergoing court procedures. The diversion program ought to serve as an alternative to jail terms. The program will also allow judges to apply discretion to enable offenders to execute community service or relevant programs before arraignment in courts. Once someone completes the assigned program, criminal records for the given charge cease to exist.

After reading the proposed bills, Governor Baker introduced recommendations that intended to improve the new statutes. One of the changes purposed to allow agencies responsible for licensing childcare providers and firearms reach to sealed records of crimes. Levin reports that the changes would also prevent some crimes affecting children from dismissal over prosecutors’ objection (n.p). Additionally, the changes by Baker would extend the mandatory suspension of license for homicides involving motor vehicles to 15 years instead of 10 years. Before Baker’s review proposals, the bill forbade guardians from testifying against their children. The new law will end the incarceration cycle, enhance victims’ support, and terminate criminalization because of poverty.

Individuals convicted of minor crimes before the twenty-first birthday now have the opportunities to seal the records permanently if they did not commit other offenses. In the past, juvenile records could follow a person into adulthood and threatened the chances of the individuals to get jobs and housing opportunities.

The new statute in Massachusetts introduces mandates on data-collection and record-keeping to ensure accurate tracking of arrests, incarceration, and reoffending rates. The goal of the new tracking measures is partly to determine ethnic and racial disparities (Schoenberg n.p). There are also directions for the training of law enforcement agents to avoid ethnic and racial profiling, establish trust in their respective communities, and ensure care during interaction with mentally ill individuals. The law also directs for the submission of all untested rape kits with cases of reported sexual assault for “testing within 180 days.” The new legal amendments establish prohibitions on the segregation and application of “solitary confinements” in the Massachusetts prison system. Individuals in isolated cells are subject to periodic hearings for determining the efficacy of continued isolation. The statute also intends to prohibit the placement of pregnant women and juveniles in separate systems. There is also a provision that permits compassionate medical freedom for inmates without safety risks to the community. The rule will allow the transfer of terminally ill and elderly inmates to cheaper care.

Explanation of the criminal justice policy in Texas

In 2017, the Texas legislature embarked on measures to reform the criminal justice system with the intention of enhancing the safety of civilians, redeeming lives, and protecting taxpayers. For a long time, the State used the concept of debtors’ prison to lock people incapable of paying fines. This practice remained rampant in Texas, and the prison population increased significantly. However, in September 2017, the States’ Governor Greg Abbott approved two bills namely, “House Bill 351” and “Senate Bill 1913” that intended to terminate the application of debtors’ prisons. The two bills charged the state courts to issue an alternative to jail for individual’s incapable of paying fees and fines like traffic tickets and the Class C offenses that lack a possible prison sentence (Levin n.p). The reforms also instruct courts to provide community service and payment plans as well as reduce fine to match the income of individual offenders.

Texas legislatures also expanded the “second chance” law of 2015 that established a ceiling for imprisonment. The law covered nonviolent minor sentences other than the first-time DWI. The 2017 reform incorporates the first-time DWI and nullifies the 2015 law as retroactive (Silver n.p). The new statute allows many people with single convictions from the past decades to sanctify their names. This bill relies on the research findings that individuals, who have served communities without recidivism for many years are unlikely to re-offend. In such cases, the “scarlet letter of a criminal record” bars them from employment and housing opportunities, which worsens safety outcomes while compromising economic productivity.

The policymakers in Texas also undertook policy reforms in the criminal justice to reduce the rate of wrongful convictions by passing the HB34, which guide in handling jailhouse informants. Silver demonstrates that some jailed persons concoct stories concerning other people alleged to commit crimes in exchange for better deals in own cases (n.p). The trend has been one of the contributors towards an increase in wrongful convictions in the state. The new legislation (HB34) mandates prosecutors to monitor the application of jailhouse informants. The law also demands that prosecutors should share information of benefits offered to jailhouse informants in exchange of information with the judge, jury, and the defense.

The legislature of Texas also changed the state’s jail system formed in 1993 to tackle nonviolent criminals like those sentenced for carrying below a gram of illicit drugs (Levin n.p). Such offenders have a recidivism rate of 60% and research has demonstrated that better outcomes are possible with local programs, which can hold nonviolent criminals accountable while receiving addiction treatment. The series of policy reforms in Texas has been responsible for the significant decrease in the rates of crime since 1967. Consequently, the state has shut eight prisons within the past seven years.

In 2017, the lawmakers in Texas realized the need to improve public safety by creating laws that protect the police and civilians altogether. The step follows an increase in hate crimes against the police that has complicated the operations of the law enforcement workers (Levin n.p). One of the undertakings in the policy reforms is the equipping of police with sturdy bulletproof vests. The lawmakers also intend to approve laws that recognize the police as a protected group. The issue of police protection gained momentum in 2017 after an attack in Dallas that led to the death of five officers. (Silver n.p) Some legislatures intend to advocate that citizens finance the proposed bulletproof vests for patrol officers. The law also promotes for the treatment of attacks on police as hate crimes. The approval of the law on police protection will classify attacks on law enforcers with hate crimes perpetrated alongside religion, race, color, nationality, ancestry, sexual orientation, disability.

There is the “Senate Bill 273” proposed by Senator John Whitmire that would require the teaching of ninth graders about their responsibilities, rights, and proper behaviors among law enforcement agents and civilians. Another “Senate Bill 202” sponsored by Senator Royce West would require the police to learn together with juveniles about aspects of a criminal offense (Silver n.p). The goal of the program is to reduce police confrontations with youths and help in lowering the rate of juvenile incarceration. The bill by Royce also proposes that the driver’s handbooks and the part of written exams feature questions on encounter strategies with the police.

Comparison and recommendations

The criminal justice policies for Texas and Massachusetts States are similar and different in various ways. The two states are currently using new procedures as Texas approved reforms in 2017 while Massachusetts adopted the changes in April 2018. The first notable similarity between the two territories is the adoption of structures that encourage the examination of convicts to ensure that they receive light bails (Silver n.p; Murphy n.p). The two system mandates the court to run background checks on offenders before quoting binds. The overall goal of the plan is to avoid locking needy individuals because of their incapacity to pay for their freedom. The two systems also approve the use of alternative incarceration measures like community service and treatment of offenders.

Another crucial similarity between the Massachusetts and Texas system concerns the provision that allows individuals to erase their early criminal records if they have no recent encounters with the law. With the reforms, people can enjoy relief from crimes committed in adolescence. The two systems recognize that such measures help the offenders to find jobs and accessible housing opportunities.

The criminal justice policies of Texas and Massachusetts are also similar as far the goal to reduce mandatory minimum imprisonment is concerned (Silver n.p; Schoenberg n.p). in both states, the target to reduce minimum compulsory incarceration focus on minor drug offenses. For instance, the Texan law relieves individuals with marijuana below one gram from mandatory principles.

The Texan and Massachusetts criminal justice policies advocate for training programs for the police agents to increase relationship with the public (Levin n.p; Murphy n.p). However, the approach to the training is somewhat different. The Texan reforms require that the police train in the same class with juveniles to create an understanding of responsibilities during the interaction. The goal of the training is to reduce the rate of incarcerated youths. Massachusetts’ training proposal intends to educate the security officers of manners to relate with people and avoid race and ethnic-based profiling.

One of the differences between the criminal justice policies of Texas and Massachusetts concerns the issues of wrongful conviction. The Texas system has established measures to reduce wrongful convictions by increasing the responsibilities of prosecutors when grilling jailed informants (Levin n.p). In many cases, prosecutors and detained informants create terms of the corporation in investigating other people. The terms usually carry favorable conditions for the jailed information. As such, there is typically the tendency of informants giving false information that lead to wrongful convictions. Massachusetts lacks such provisions intended to reduce wrongful incarcerations.

Another area of distinction between the criminal justice policies applied in Massachusetts and Texas concern the safety of the police officers. The Texan reforms recognize that police officers are facing increasing vulnerability to hate crimes (Silver n.p). This understanding followed a series of attacks on law enforcement officers. In 2017, Texas lost five officers to hate crime attackers (Levin n.p). With the intention to improve police safety, there is a clause in the reform that seeks to buy sturdy bulletproof vests for the police agents. Massachusetts has no law advocating for such direct investment in police safety.

From the comparison of the two policies on criminal justice, some can deduce some recommendations to improve the Texan case. First, it is essential for Texas to emulate the steps by Massachusetts to increase the age of juvenile responsibility for crimes. The undertaking can foster measures to reduce the rate of incarcerating children. Another recommendation is for Texas to clarify the actions it can take regarding the handling of hard opioid drugs. Massachusetts is clear about the legislation and increases punishments for the individual caught with opioids and synthetic substances. The step may help the Texan administration in reducing backlash with civil rights movements that may demand equal treatment of individuals caught with marijuana and opioids. The Texan legislatures should emulate Massachusetts’ system that calls for strict background checks by firearm licensing agency on individuals wanting to acquire guns. The move can help in reducing instances of violent gun crimes.

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