An inside Look at the Recent Criminal Justice Policies of Texas

In recent years, the general focus of Texas’s criminal justice system’s policies has been to reduce the number of people behind bars, increase public safety, and cut costs. However, the state has recognized the need for reform in areas such as the bail system, incarceration rates, and community supervision programs. As a result, Texas’s efforts to address these issues have significantly changed its criminal justice landscape.

One key area of reform has been bail policies. Advocates have long argued that the cash bail system is broken, with approximately 10,000 people stuck in Texas jails daily, unable to afford their release. In response to this issue, lawmakers and activists have pushed for bail reform, leading to increased emphasis on community supervision and rehabilitation programs. These programs include drug treatment initiatives and electronic monitoring of offenders as alternatives to incarceration.

Additionally, Texas has made strides in reducing its prison population and closing prisons, decreasing 30,000 inmates and eight prison closures. This shift has also resulted in the state’s crime rate reaching its lowest point since 1967. Texas’s pioneering criminal justice reforms have inspired similar changes in other states, showcasing the potential for meaningful progress in policy and practice.

Evolution of Criminal Justice Policies

Historical Context

Texas has made notable strides in improving its criminal justice system in recent years. The state has a long history of having tough criminal justice policies, with its large prison population and reputation for being tough on crime. However, recognizing the need for change, Texas lawmakers and the legislature have been making various efforts to reform policies and practices in the system.

Recent Reforms

For instance, in the past few years, the Texas criminal justice system has witnessed a shift in focus toward policies that emphasize:

  • Mental Health and Drug Treatment: Recognizing the importance of addressing the underlying issues that often lead to criminal behavior, Texas has invested in mental health and drug treatment programs to support individuals in need rather than rely on punishment alone.
  • Reducing Recidivism: Texas lawmakers are increasingly focusing on implementing policies that reduce recidivism rates. This includes supporting reentry programs and workforce development initiatives that help individuals reintegrate into society following incarceration.
  • Alternatives to Incarceration: Many recent reforms have aimed at finding alternatives to traditional incarceration, including the expansion of specialty courts that focus on specific populations or offenses, deferred adjudication programs, and promoting the use of community supervision.
  • Sentencing Reform: To reduce the number of non-violent offenders in correctional facilities, Texas has changed its sentencing policies. These include reductions in mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug offenses, allowing for more judicial discretion in sentencing decisions, and promoting a graduated scale of punishment based on the severity of the offense.

By prioritizing these areas, the Texas criminal justice system has seen some success in reducing its prison population and improving the overall landscape of its policies. While progress is still being made, these recent reforms signal a significant shift in the state’s approach to criminal justice.

Focus on Prison System and Rehabilitation

Prison Conditions

In recent years, Texas’s criminal justice system has been working on improving prison conditions for inmates. This includes addressing overcrowding, inadequate healthcare, and violence within the prisons. To mitigate these issues, the state has implemented strategies such as reducing solitary confinement and focusing on rehabilitative approaches for non-violent offenders.

Education and Training Programs

Education and training programs play an essential role in the rehabilitation process of inmates. Texas has been working to expand access to these programs, acknowledging their importance in reducing recidivism rates and increasing the likelihood of successful reintegration into society. Some initiatives within Texas’s prison system include:

  • Providing access to basic adult education and GED preparation programs for inmates who lack a high school diploma
  • Offering vocational training courses in various fields, such as construction, automotive repair, and culinary arts, which enable inmates to develop job skills
  • Implementing cognitive-behavioral programs that teach inmates problem-solving skills and help them address the root causes of their criminal behavior

Texas’s criminal justice system aims to create a more effective and fair approach to addressing crime and incarceration by focusing on rehabilitation and improving prison conditions.

Bail Reform and Pre-Trial Processes

Bail System Changes

In recent years, the focus of Texas’s criminal justice system has shifted toward bail reform and pre-trial processes. One of the main concerns is to make the bail system fairer and more accessible for everyone, regardless of their financial status. In the past, money bail has been criticized for disproportionately affecting people with lower incomes, who cannot afford the bail amount and therefore remain in detention until trial.

Texas has been looking into alternative methods to the traditional cash bail system to address this issue. For example, several counties have adopted reforms that allow for using risk assessment tools or personal recognizance bonds. These approaches help ensure that pretrial release decisions are based on the defendant’s risk, not financial ability.

Reducing Racial Disparities

Another significant aspect of bail reform in Texas is the focus on addressing racial disparities within the criminal justice system. Studies have consistently shown that minority populations, particularly African Americans and Hispanics, are more likely to be detained pre-trial due to systemic discrimination, harsher punishment for certain offenses, and higher poverty rates, which result in less access to money for bail.

To reduce racial disparities in the pre-trial process, Texas has initiated various strategies, including:

  • Implementing risk assessment tools to help judges make more objective decisions in the bail-setting process without relying solely on intuition, which biases can influence.
  • Encouraging personal recognizance bonds, allowing defendants with lower risk profiles to be released without paying money bail, and increasing access to pre-trial release for those who might not be able to afford it.
  • Peace officers must issue citations rather than arrest individuals for certain low-level misdemeanors, minimizing unnecessary confinement and reducing racial disparities in pre-trial detention.

By focusing on bail reform and pre-trial processes, Texas is taking crucial steps to make the criminal justice system more equitable and accessible for all its citizens, ensuring that an individual’s financial status or race does not determine their pre-trial outcome. This progress aligns with wider efforts across the United States to create a fairer judicial system.

Community Supervision Alternatives


In recent years, Texas has focused on implementing evidence-based policies to improve community supervision as an alternative to incarceration. Probation is a vital component of this approach. It allows low-risk offenders to serve their sentences under supervision and with specific conditions, such as attending rehabilitation programs, counseling, or community service. This not only promotes public safety but also reduces costs and overcrowding in prisons.

Texas’s reforms aim to enhance the effectiveness of probation, focusing on tailor-made conditions and resources for probationers to reintegrate into society successfully. These include:

  • Providing appropriate support services, such as addiction treatment or mental health counseling
  • Using risk assessments to make informed decisions about the level of supervision needed for each individual
  • Addressing violations swiftly and consistently, prioritizing rehabilitation over punitive actions


Parole, like probation, serves as a community supervision alternative to releasing eligible prisoners before the end of their sentence. The focus of Texas’s parole policies has shifted towards reducing recidivism rates and improving public safety in recent years. Key aspects of these efforts include:

  • Conducting thorough risk assessments to determine suitable candidates for parole
  • Employing evidence-driven strategies to ensure successful re-entry into society, including access to housing, employment, and social services
  • Prioritizing parole for non-violent, low-risk offenders and reserving incarceration for those who pose a threat to public safety

Democrats and Republicans support these reforms in Texas’s criminal justice system, recognizing that an emphasis on community supervision alternatives like probation and parole can lead to a more just and effective system, respecting the rights of individuals while safeguarding public safety.

Legislative and Collaborative Efforts

Bipartisan Support

In recent years, Texas has witnessed a shift in its criminal justice system policies, with Republicans and Democrats finding common ground. Governor Greg Abbott, a key figure advocating for criminal justice reform, has supported and signed various bipartisan bills to change the state’s justice system. Efforts have primarily focused on reducing recidivism, improving prison system conditions, and addressing sentencing disparities issues.

One notable example of bipartisan collaboration is passing legislation to reduce reliance on cash bail. This measure ensures that pretrial release decisions are based on an individual’s risk to public safety rather than their ability to pay for their release. As a result, defendants are less likely to face extended jail time simply because they cannot afford to post bail.

Influential Stakeholders

Several influential stakeholders have shaped Texas’s criminal justice reform, including nonprofit organizations, lawmakers, and philanthropic groups. One such organization is Color, which works to end the racial and economic disparities within the state’s justice system.

Collaborative efforts have also led to the development of a learning network supported by a group of philanthropies. These organizations deploy experts in criminal justice reform to provide training and technical assistance, helping to identify best practices and strategies for addressing systemic issues within the state’s justice system.

Moreover, law enforcement agencies and representatives from various sectors have come together to advocate for more effective criminal justice policies, focusing on rehabilitation and community reintegration for formerly incarcerated individuals.

Key Legislative Efforts

  • Assault on Public Servants: Implemented stricter sentences for individuals convicted of assaulting or injuring a public servant. This reform emphasizes protecting law enforcement officers without disproportionately penalizing offenders.
  • Mental Health Reform: Expanded access to mental health care services for individuals within the criminal justice system. This initiative addresses underlying mental health issues contributing to criminal behavior and recidivism.
  • Sentencing Reform: Encouraged the use of alternatives to incarceration for certain nonviolent offenses, such as drug possession. This reform seeks to reduce prison overcrowding and promote rehabilitation rather than relying solely on punitive sentencing.

These legislative and collaborative efforts in Texas’s criminal justice system have contributed to a shift in focus towards evidence-based practices, more equitable treatment of defendants, and an overall reduction in recidivism rates. This progress serves as a model for criminal justice reform in other states nationwide.

Impact of COVID-19 on Criminal Justice System

Prison Outbreaks

The spread of COVID-19 significantly impacted carceral settings, with prisons and jails experiencing outbreaks. These outbreaks affected incarcerated individuals and the staff working in these facilities. The situation forced the criminal justice system to rapidly adapt and address the challenges posed by the highly contagious virus to protect the health and well-being of those within the system.

Pandemic-Related Reforms

As the pandemic unfolded, the criminal justice system was compelled to make several reforms to curb the spread of the virus and mitigate its impact. Some of these reforms included:

  • Population Reduction: Local jails experienced a substantial reduction in their confined population during the early months of the pandemic. According to a 2021 report, between June 30, 2019, and June 30, 2020, there was a 185,400-person decrease in the number of individuals held in local jails.
  • Adaptation and Innovation: The criminal justice system had to adapt and innovate in ways it never had before. This included remote court proceedings, changes in arrest procedures, and electronic monitoring instead of incarceration.
  • Less Intrusive, Less Punitive Justice: Due to these adjustments, the criminal justice system became less intrusive and punitive during the pandemic. This coincided with growing demands for reform due to social and political conditions undermining trust in justice agencies, especially law enforcement.

While the changes made due to COVID-19 were mostly reactive, they provided valuable lessons for future reform efforts that can improve the criminal justice system beyond the pandemic.


What has been the general focus of Texas’s criminal justice system’s policies in recent years?

In recent years, the general focus of Texas’s criminal justice system’s policies has been rehabilitation, reducing the number of people behind bars, increasing public safety, and cutting costs. However, some advocates have argued that the bail system in Texas is broken, with around 10,000 people in Texas jails every day.

What are some recent changes to Texas’s criminal justice laws?

  • Permitless carry: House Bill 1927 allows Texans aged 21 and older to carry handguns without training or a license, as long as they are not legally prevented.
  • Abortion restrictions: Senate Bill 8 bans abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy when a fetal heartbeat is detected. This law has garnered attention and controversy both within Texas and nationwide.

How do bail reforms in Texas compare to other states?

Bail reform in Texas is facing an uphill battle, with little progress made compared to other states working towards similar goals. While almost everyone arrested in Texas has a constitutional right to be released on bail (except for capital murder defendants or individuals accused of certain repeat felonies or bail violations), the system needs drastic improvement. Other states, such as New Jersey and New York, have made significant efforts to reform their bail systems in recent years, with varying levels of success.

Can you summarize the top issues facing the 2021 Texas Legislature?

Some of the top issues for the 2021 Texas Legislature (the Legislature meets every two years) include:

  • Criminal justice reform, particularly regarding the bail system
  • Healthcare, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Gun control and permitless carry
  • Abortion restrictions and legal challenges to those restrictions
  • Voting Rights and potential voter suppression
  • Public education, including funding and COVID-19 accommodations

These issues represent a variety of challenges and opportunities for the Texas Legislature to consider during their legislative session.