1992 — student runner-up
The prison system in Texas, like many other states, is in a period of flux, and will soon be in a period of crisis without major changes and a new approach to the archaic prison system of the past. The combination of a worsening economy and the rising popularity of drugs in all segments of society has raised new questions about how offenders should be punished, and how best to spend money on either incarceration of rehabilitation.
Texas is in the unique situation of having the money it needs to build the facilities (as a result of $100 million prison bond passed in November) but, like most other states, has not decided where the most need is within the system. And so it comes down to the age old question of whether to try to rehabilitate or simply incarcerate and try to keep as many offenders off the streets as possible. As a result of the conflict Governor Ann Richards formed the Texas Punishment Standards Commission, which will look at alternatives to the traditional prison system and evaluate the system in its current condition in Texas. The committee will study, over the course of one year, which alternatives to the system, including new sentencing matrices, innovative rehabilitative programs, vocational training programs, and shock incarceration programs such as boot camps, have worked in other states. By the end of the year, the committee will make their recommendations to the governor and to the Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, concerning the feasibility of these programs in Texas.
My intent is to document the prison system in Texas and to look at some of the more successful programs in other states to act as positive propaganda for the alternative to the traditional approach of incarceration. Such traditional approaches typically support only a token effort toward rehabilitation. Many of the legislators and committee members will never get a chance to see first hand how many of the alternative programs operate, and so the project will serve as a kind of intermediary document for those who have neither the time nor the resources to see them enacted in prison.
The project seems enormous in scope, but each alternative can be grouped into more general categories, which will make the project more workable. The collective work as a thesis for my master’s degree will be completed by the end of the year, but I plan to go further with the project to document how the system has changed from its current state to the period after the reforms have taken place. Many high level state officials have made the statement that, by the end of the decade. Texas will be held up as an example of how to deal with offenders rather than being known as one of the most overcrowded and corrupt systems in the country. Whether that happens remains to be seen, but regardless of whether or not Texas succeeds, its attempt to change the system could be viewed ten years from now as a watermark for how far society has come in trying to come up with a workable solution for slowing down crime.