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Summary: According to the Penal Code, an individual adjudged guilty of a state jail felony shall be punished by confinement in a state jail for between 180 days and 2 years or granted probation of up to five years, as well as fined up to $10,0000. Under current law, state jail felonies include crimes such as possession of less than a gram of drugs or shoplifting. Some reports indicate that incarceration in state jails leads to higher recidivism rates which in turn lead to more cost to the taxpayer.
HB 1790 does not change the punishment for state jail offenses, as offenders can still be placed on probation or incarcerated for the same maximum periods. For only those who receive probation and meet all conditions of probation, including paying any restitution owed, this bill allows them to apply for a reduction in the classification of the offense to a Class A misdemeanor. The application may only be made after a few years of success on probation. The prosecutor may object to the application and the judge ultimately decides whether to grant it.
Analysis: Offenders convicted of certain state jail felonies already have the option of choosing a sentence of up to five years community supervision rather than serve time in jail. Unfortunately, many choose to spend six or more months in state jail rather than spend up to five years on probation. However, Texas Department of Criminal Justice data shows that 23.8% of those released from state jails are re-incarcerated for a new offense within two years compared with an 11.3% offense revocation rate for those on probation.
One long term unintended consequence of having a felony conviction is that an offender who has paid for his crime is almost unemployable because an increasing number of employers will not hire a person with a record of felony conviction. The inability to get a decent job exacerbates the chances of recidivism. HB 1790, by creating an opportunity for the felony to drop to a misdemeanor upon successful completion of community supervision, incentivizes offenders who prosecutors and judges have deemed appropriate for probation to both accept this much longer period of accountability and succeed. This this encourages self-responsibility and allows the individual a greater chance at integrating back into society. HB1790 appropriately excludes all state jail felonies that involve a crime against the person or domestic violence, as well as the state jail offense of failing to register as a sex offender.
Finally, Texas has one of the largest prison populations in the United States. By reducing the amount of individuals incarcerated, the taxpayers could potentially save money. For these reasons, TPPA recommends voting yes on HB 1790.