Public Safety and Criminal Justice

Introduction


Texas state government spent $1.4 billion on public safety and corrections programs in fiscal 1992, nearly double what it spent on this category just four years before. Skyrocketing expenditures for prison programs have been a major contributor to Texas financial woes in recent years.

The major components of public safety and criminal justice in Texas are the Department of Public Safety, the state s primary law enforcement agency, and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), created in 1989 through the consolidation of three separate agencies. TDCJ administers the state s prison, probation and parole functions.

TPR s recommendations recognize the importance of this function to any resolution of Texas budget problems. Several proposals would increase the efficiency of TDCJ operations through improvements in prison unit des ign and maintenance and increased accountability in the agency s budget process. Other recommendations would free up precious prison space for hardened criminals by moving low-risk prisoners with substance-abuse problems into state hospitals, and by increa sing the number of prisoners kept in privately operated prison facilities.

Further savings could be produced by using a managed-care concept, similar to that of a health maintenance organization (HMO), to provide medical services to prisoners. This would allow the state to lower its costs by negotiating a per-prisoner rate in advance for basic health-care services.

Another recommendation in Against the Grain outlines innovative ways in which TDCJ could attract federal funding from various federal sources as a way of reducing the strain on the state fiscal system.

TPR also suggests charging a fee to recover the Department of Public Safety s expenses in reinstating suspended drivers licenses, and changing to a single license-plate system for Texas vehicles.

Savings from many of TPR s recommendations to increase the efficiency of public safety and criminal justice functions cannot be estimated. Those that can would increase general revenue by more than $86 million in fiscal 1994-95, and reduce state employment by about 170 positions. Dedicated state accounts and funds would gain about $9.5 million.

Over the next five years (1994-1998), these recommendations would save the state more than $291 million, and would reduce the state work force by about 420. Texas dedicated accounts and funds would gain about $24 million.