CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM

Texas Democrats believe our justice system should be transformed to focus on barriers to justice, root causes of crime, and alternatives to imprisonment. Justice should not be measured by wealth and privilege. Fairness, due process, and equal protection should be the ultimate goals of the criminal justice system. We must address the institutional and implicit biases that lead people of color, people with disabilities, and low-income people to be prosecuted more harshly than whites and people without disabilities arrested for the same crimes, as well as the structural unfairness that exists for other vulnerable groups in our society – immigrants, members of religious minorities, veterans, and the LGBTQIA+ community. These problems are compounded for those who are vulnerable across multiple groups.

The Texas Democratic Party supports policies and programs that:

  • Legalize marijuana;
  • End unnecessary arrests;
  • End cash bail;
  • Institute reentry and rehabilitation programs with no cost to the participant and reduce collateral consequences;
  • Eliminate private prisons and detention facilities;
  • Transform policing;
  • Improve prison and jail conditions;
  • Reform court procedures;
  • Reform juvenile justice; and
  • End “tough on crime” sentencing.

Legalizing Marijuana

  • Legalize marijuana and release all prisoners charged solely with marijuana possession.

Ending Unnecessary Arrests

  • Limit the ability of officers to arrest and jail a person for a violation where jail is not a statutory consequence, such as a minor traffic infraction or a Class C local ordinance violation;
  • Require police departments to adopt local policies that maximize the use of citations instead of arrests for all citation-eligible offenses; and
  • Expand the offenses for which citations can be issued instead of immediate arrest and jail.

Ending Cash Bail

  • Abandon the unfair practice of cash bail and replace it with a pretrial release process that presumes immediate release of non-violent, low-risk defendants;
  • Institute a fair and efficient pretrial release system that would save Texas taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in pretrial detention costs and would remove the unconstitutional practice of discrimination against the poor, people with disabilities, and people of color caused by the current cash bail system;
  • Develop a pretrial release system that is fair, equitable, and non-discriminatory;
  • Amend the Texas Constitution and Texas Code of Criminal Procedure to create a pretrial release system that presumes release on personal recognizance for people charged with non-violent offenses who have little or no criminal history;
  • Release low-risk defendants immediately under the least restrictive conditions necessary to protect victims and the community while assuring the defendants appearance at court proceedings;
  • Use a pretrial process designed to release low-risk, non-violent detainees on personal recognizance bond as soon as possible; and
  • Require detention decisions be made within 48 hours after arrest and be based upon written orders supported by “clear and convincing evidence.”

Instituting Reentry and Rehabilitation Programs and Reducing Collateral Consequences

  • Provide formerly incarcerated individuals with a pathway back to productive participation in society and ensure that recidivism is reduced;
  • Place stronger emphasis on providing compensation to victims who are released due to having been falsely convicted and incarcerated, commensurate with the level of injury these victims suffered as a result of this travesty of justice;
  • Allow prisoners the right to vote;
  • Restore funding for postsecondary education in prisons;
  • Support expunging the criminal records of defendants who have completed deferred adjudication supervision for non-violent misdemeanors and felonies;
  • Expand access to nondisclosure of criminal records for people with non-violent convictions who have completed required rehabilitation;
  • Ensure formerly incarcerated individuals receive a fair chance at employment and other essential services by enforcing and expanding “ban the box” laws that remove the conviction history question from employment applications;
  • Provide necessary resources for additional job and career development training;
  • Significantly reduce the number of people reincarcerated for technical violations of parole or probation;
  • Reform probation processes to allow probationers to be more closely supervised in their communities and to provide alternate means of punishing them, such as local jail time, house arrest, additional counseling, and self-help programs, without sending them to a state prison or imposing excessive registration requirements which prevent reentry;
  • Increase access to rehabilitation and reentry programs, with a special emphasis on reducing drug use among people released from prison;
  • Reverse existing policies that deny student loans and grants to those who have completed sentences for drug-related felonies; and
  • Ensure there are enough parole officers to reasonably supervise individuals and accommodate a person’s work, family, and other potentially conflicting requirements.

Eliminating Private Prisons and Detention Facilities

  • Accept that a business model that generates profit from incarcerating individuals for long periods of time is unacceptable and immoral;
  • Amend the Texas Constitution to require state and local governments to directly operate and perform all core services at prisons, jails, or detention facilities within the State of Texas, as well as expressly prohibit the use of private prisons, jails, or detention facilities within the state;
  • Bar state and local governments from contracting with private prisons, jails, or detention facilities; and
  • Deny corporate status, licenses, permits, and tax incentives to companies that operate private prisons, jails, or detention facilities.

Transforming Policing

  • Ensure that police reflect the diversity within the communities that they serve and are recruited from their communities;
  • Create statewide, comprehensive education and training for peace officers on civil rights, communication, and interaction with people with disabilities, racial sensitivity, implicit bias, and cultural diversity to ensure that the mantra “to serve and protect” is applied equitably to all communities;
  • Ensure that implicit bias training is conducted by a source external to the police department, repeated annually, and carries material consequences for noncompliance;
  • Move police departments from a “warrior” to a “guardian” ethos by establishing de-escalation as the norm in both policy and training for all departments, limiting the use of firearms and Tasers, and rejecting further militarization of our state and local police forces;
  • End federal programs that provide military equipment to police forces;
  • Eliminate the use of SWAT teams to serve routine drug investigation warrants as well ensure that police department management collect and report data on SWAT deployments, require body cameras, and approve all SWAT raids in advance to ensure they are necessary while severely limiting the use of “no knock” warrants;
  • Institute appropriate disciplinary actions for officers who violate departmental policies and prevent officers who have been terminated for violating civil rights or using unwarranted and excessive force from moving to another police department within the state;
  • Ensure that case processing of an officer’s use of force matters be carried out expeditiously and in the same manner that any case is evaluated for probable cause determination, while giving consideration to the nature of policing and requiring the immediate arrest of officers who violate the law using force;
  • Revitalize the use of Department of Justice investigations, consent decrees, and federal lawsuits to address systemic constitutional violations by police departments;
  • Implement alternative responses to crisis calls, including mental health, drug overdose, or homelessness, that replace police and jail with health services and follow-up care;
  • Expand statewide use of force reporting to include all incidents resulting in injury to either an officer or a civilian;
  • Strengthen independent oversight of criminal investigation by supporting independent crime labs, requiring independent or special prosecutors to investigate certain police officer-involved actions, and supporting independent police oversight at every level of government;
  • End racial profiling in searches and traffic stops, require written or recorded consent, and require racial profiling data and any of the officers’ records to be allowed to be used as evidence in lawsuits alleging racial profiling;
  • Ensure civil asset forfeiture only upon a criminal conviction;
  • Understand that having a disability is not a crime; and
  • Support reallocating funds from police budgets to emergency medical services, mental health services, homeless solutions offices, and housing and neighborhood revitalization.

Improving Prison and Jail Conditions

  • Transition the organizing principle of prisons and jails to one of human dignity;
  • Ensure that the conditions inside carceral facilities are safe, sanitary, and not of any detriment to the well-being of the people in their walls;
  • Ensure that the primary purposes of incarceration are rehabilitation and public safety, and that prisons are funded at the level necessary to deliver on those goals;
  • Institute a civilized system of justice that places equality and respect for people on an equal footing with security in its work and reflect this in the conditions of jails and prisons;
  • Practice compassionate release of incarcerated people due to terminal illness, advanced age, sickness, debilitation, or extreme family circumstances as a standard, not just in times of crisis, knowing that these populations are most at risk for illness and death, and, as a condition of dignity, should be released from prison or jail as they enter end of life events or dire health situations;
  • Ensure living conditions are humane by providing necessities including, but not limited to, adequate heating and cooling within facilities, good quality food and water at regular intervals, healthcare access, and ease of access to commissaries;
  • Prepare for healthcare emergencies to ensure the safety of those who are incarcerated, including policies and procedures that adhere to CDC and other health authority recommendations to reduce transmission of disease;
  • Release people from prison who do not pose a public safety threat, thus decreasing population density and viral transmission risk;
  • Ensure visitation through video teleconferencing and via telephone are free of charge;
  • Require reporting from individual facilities about their ability to suitably prevent the spread of disease throughout their incarcerated populations in concert with constitutional and statutory requirements;
  • Protect LGBTQIA+, disabled, pregnant, victims of domestic violence, and other vulnerable communities from sexual violence and assault while incarcerated;
  • Ensure protocols are developed for members of the LGBTQIA+ community who seek to be accommodated on the basis of gender identity or expression, including hormone therapy, showers, toilets, searches, urinalysis, and monitoring under camera surveillance, and be treated humanely in line with gender identity; and
  • Ensure members of the LGBTQIA+ community have access to the appropriate gender conforming medical care as recognized in standards from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and the National Institute of Corrections.

Reforming Court Procedures

  • Ensure that the primary duty of the criminal justice system is not merely to convict but to see that justice is done;
  • Regain trust and respect among those communities that the courts serve;
  • End practices that damage the fundamental notions of fairness, transparency, and due process demanded of the civil and criminal justice systems;
  • Ensure that the system and officers of the court all place emphasis on the presumption of innocence at each stage of the process regardless of the race or economic status of the defendant;
  • Improve both the quality and integrity of the Texas civil and criminal justice systems by criminalizing intentional prosecutorial misconduct;
  • Assign attorneys to represent indigent defendants and defendants with disabilities;
  • Support disability accommodations to facilitate communication with defendants and their counsel;
  • Support accommodations for people with cognitive disabilities;
  • Ensure that people with disabilities have free access to civil attorneys if a judge determines that access to a civil attorney is needed to reasonably accommodate the needs of that person and ensure justice; and
  • Mandate continuing legal education for judges on issues related to people with disabilities.

Reforming Juvenile Justice

  • Prioritize prevention using the transformative justice model as a foundational framework;
  • Ensure the primary goal of juvenile justice is to rehabilitate youth, and not create a feeder system for adult prison facilities;
  • Require mandatory training for all staff and volunteers on educating students with disabilities;
  • Ensure school staff and volunteers are trained to provide healthy nurturance and support for students balanced with high expectations and consistent discipline;
  • Prioritize teaching coping strategies, impulse control, and other pro-social behaviors beginning in pre-K through the end of primary education to avoid the development of anti-social behaviors that lead to higher risk of incarceration and measure student growth in this area annually;
  • Provide on-campus behavior learning supports, up to and including in-school detention while eradicating 85 percent of all off-campus suspensions and expulsions by handling behavioral issues on the home campus;
  • Eliminate all student referrals to police for routine school discipline;
  • Utilize Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs (DAEPs) as therapeutic, rehabilitative learning campuses for extreme instances only;
  • Ensure schools adhere to the fidelity of a wider range of empirical research regarding the prevention of anti-social behaviors that are prevalent among prison populations;
  • Expand the use of proactive, trauma-informed, equity-driven approaches that lead to productive and positive outcomes for students;
  • Raise the age of criminal responsibility from 17 to 18 years of age, and end the prosecution of juveniles in adult courts; and
  • End the housing of youth in large state prison facilities and ensure they are housed in smaller, better-staffed, child-focused, family-centered facilities that are closer to the youths’ homes.

Ending “Tough on Crime” Sentencing

  • End the practice of sending poor people to jail or prison for inability to pay fines and court costs;
  • Repeal laws that make it a criminal offense for immigrants to enter the United States without papers, so that being an unauthorized immigrant in the U.S. would still be a civil offense but not a crime;
  • Reduce the number of people entering jails and prisons by eliminating incarceration as a penalty for low-level, non-violent offenses, especially when these offenses are the result of disability or substance use disorder, or are first-time offenses;
  • Eliminate mandatory minimums, “three-strikes” laws, and other sentencing restrictions and policies that drive extraordinarily long prison terms, allowing judges to use discretion to adjust sentences where the specifics of the situation justify it;
  • End “truth in sentencing” laws that lengthen sentences and limit eligibility for parole, while streamlining the parole and probation systems for individuals that pose little or no threat to society;
  • Criminalize prosecutorial misconduct as a felony, and encourage justice rather than conviction rates;
  • Treat drug use and mental health as public health challenges rather than as crimes;
  • Fund accessible, affordable, community-based outpatient care and insurance for mental health treatment, drug treatment programs, and rehabilitation programs;
  • Incentivize the expansion of psychiatric residency programs and increase the availability of trauma-informed mental health services for the poor and veterans;
  • Require courts to facilitate the application by persons with disabilities for all disability accommodation needed to ensure justice on their websites and also in person;
  • Move away from a system that forces individuals to be jailed who would be better served with substance use or mental health services and supports, including peer-support programs; and
  • Abolish the death penalty.