Texans appear, for the first time in decades, to be prepared to abandon their iconic 'tough on crime' position, if rehabilitation and other non prison alternatives are available, 1200 WOAI news reports.
The results appear in a new study by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative leaning think tank.
79% of Texans, according to TPPF Vice President Chuck DeVore, would back alternatives to incarcerating many drug offenders.
"Steering non violent drug offenders, people who are not traffickers in drugs, steering them away from prison, and toward rehabilitation, treatment, and education," DeVore told 1200 WOAI news.
He says support for alternatives cross all party and racial lines, with strong support from Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals, and Anglos, Hispanics, and African Americans.
But DeVore says current state laws encourage incarceration and discourage use of alternatives.
"If a local judge sends an offender to the state prison system, that offender accrues no cost to your county system, that offender becomes a state cost and state responsibility," DeVore said. "But if the judge sends the offenders to rehabilitation, the local county has to pay for that, and that's unpopular among county leaders."
The TPPF study shows that as the state's population grows, it is increasing unsustainable to incarcerate as many people as the state began locking up during the high crime 1990s, even though the state's crime rate today is lower than at any time in fifty years.
DeVore says the key to getting these reforms through is to make sure people know that at a time when alternatives are being increasingly explored, the crime rate is in fact going down.
"75% of people who responded to our survey think crime is either going up or staying the same, but we know from FBI crime statistics that crime has been dropping," he said.
The TPPF study shows that expanding effective alternatives on incarceration could save Texas $2 billion in prison costs.
By a two to one martin, Texans also support increasing spending on education and decreasing spending on prisons.
One problem is the large number of privately operated prisons which have sprung up around the state. Many of these private prisons include agreements which make it very expensive to close the facilities, and private prison operators are very effective lobbyists in favor of more incarceration.
"With a great record of success and across the board support for reform, where do we go from here?" the report concludes. "Clearly, the answer is not to return to the failed 'lock 'em up and throw away the key' rhetoric of the past, but rather to continue the focus on rehabilitating nonviolent offenders that has proven so productive. Accordingly, we would encourage rewarding counties based on their ability to reduce recidivism, improving re-entry programs, for state inmates, and strengthening probation monitoring."