Criminal Justice Reform
Gwenn Burud believes we must make criminal justice reform a priority for Texas. Our current policies on gun control, juvenile justice, marijuana legalization, and private prisons have created a justice system that does not protect those who are at risk – victims of domestic violence, children who come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, and people of color. We cannot continue to allow tragedies to happen within Texas borders – from Sutherland Springs, to Santa Fe, to the border – we see injustice happening all around us, but legislators who refuse to do something about it.
- The increase in gun violence that we have seen in the last few years is startling – as media coverage increases, we become much more aware of those who have been in the shadows – domestic abusers who have access to weapons due to gaps in our state reporting system, those with histories of violence who cannot be prevented from getting a weapon, and children who do not understand the danger of a gun.
- We need to invest in a statewide Case Management System. We currently do not have a statewide system to keep track of those who are not supposed to have access to firearms – smaller counties cannot afford the software or to pay consultants to do the work for them. The State is in a unique position to contract for the development of this system rather than relying on counties to develop individual solutions without the ability to speak to each other. The absence of this system was a direct contributor to the Sutherland Springs tragedy, and should be addressed immediately. We look forward to proposing legislation that will help counties implement this program.
- We need to study implementation of a Red Flag Law. A Red Flag law would allow persons to be “flagged” by someone close to them to prevent them from being able to purchase a firearm. This would help authorities identify those who are a danger to themselves or others. The ability of loved ones or professional contacts to identify someone who should not have immediate access to a firearm and have that information acted on quickly will not only help prevent school shootings but also deaths by suicide. Due process of law needs to be addressed and discussed, and I look forward to leading those discussions with other lawmakers to find a mutually agreeable solution.
- Access to a firearm triples of the risk of death by suicide and doubles the risk of death by homicide. On average, nineteen children per day are killed or injured by a firearm. We need to increase the age of secure storage to 18 years, and we need to consider taking additional steps to secure weapons in our homes.
- Recent studies have shown that while our schools can be springboards of opportunity for some students, they can also be a pipeline to prison for others.
- A study tracking 1 million students in Texas for six years revealed that African American students are disproportionately punished compared with otherwise similar white and Latino students. Children with emotional disabilities were also disproportionately suspended and expelled. “The Black Women’s Justice Institute released a report based on U.S. Department of Education data from 2013-2014 showing that black girls were six times more likely than white girls to receive an out-of-school suspension. Though black girls made up only 16% of female students in U.S public schools, they made up 43% of girls who were referred to law enforcement and 38% of those arrested.” The disproportionate way that children of color are treated in our schools is outrageous and needs to be addressed. We need to focus our teaching methods on developing children’s ability to make good decisions instead of snapping to expulsion or suspension. More studies are finding that children need help developing their executive function skills, the ability to make a good decision when under pressure. Discipline techniques that do not see the child’s struggles are ineffective at changing their behavior, and contribute to further behavior issues as time passes.
- In response to some disciplinary methods used, a bill was introduced in the 2017 legislature that would have prevented the expulsion or suspension of a child until that child reached the 4th grade. Kelly Hancock voted against it. We must not make snap judgments about a child based on an outburst – that child needs to be heard and understood. Increasing the number of school counselors to a level where they can provide mental health services to those children in schools will help break this cycle. Having access to mental health care in a school system can help identify the children that need help versus discipline, that need compassion instead of handcuffs, and can prevent a child from becoming a prisoner. We have to adequately fund our public schools to provide these services to our children who are most vulnerable.
- States across the nation have proven that legalizing marijuana can increase state budgets and reduce the amount of consumption by minors.
- The legacy of the prohibition on marijuana is blatantly racist and founded on hysteria rather than evidence. Prior to the 1930s, marijuana was not illegal in the United States. A man by the name of Henry Anslinger used racism to justify the prohibition of marijuana. He focused on the users of marijuana instead of whether the drug had any harmful effects. This racist legacy continues today. A report conducted between 2001 and 2010 showed that “a Black person is 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person, even though Blacks and whites use marijuana at similar rates. Such racial disparities in … arrests exist in all regions of the country, in counties large and small, urban and rural, wealthy and poor…”
- Legalization of marijuana across the United States would yield $131.8 billion in federal tax revenue between 2017 and 2025 assuming a 15% retail sales tax, payroll tax deductions and business tax revenue. It would also create 782,000 additional jobs nationwide. States that have legalized marijuana have far exceeded expectations in the amount of revenue they have generated from taxes and permits. States could collectively expect to raise $5-$18 billion per year. Since Texas delayed funding of our highways this past year to “balance” the budget, we are facing a budget shortfall of several billion dollars for 2020-2021. Legalizing marijuana would free up billions in state resources – without having to prosecute marijuana-related crimes, the number of hours spent by police in marijuana violations can instead be spent to more positive ends – more community engagement, investigation of more serious crimes, etc. Legalizing marijuana would have more far-reaching consequences than just reducing prison populations – it would impact job opportunity, available assistance programs, student loan access, and lost economic opportunity for those who are rendered ineligible for programs based on a prior conviction. Legalizing marijuana would address the racist underpinnings of the criminalization of marijuana and the racial disparities of ongoing enforcement.
- Legalizing marijuana would provide many Texans the benefits of medical marijuana, including reduction of the use of opiates. Numerous peer-reviewed studies have indicated that medical marijuana can help the immune system, increase neuroplasticity, heart health, digestive function, and improve learning.
- Legalizing marijuana would also decrease the consumption of marijuana by minors – the states that have legalized have seen drops in youth consumption. The regulation brought by a regime of legalization creates strong disincentives for businesses to sell to minors – they have reasons to stay within the law, unlike the dealer on the corner or in the schoolyard.
- Private prisons have been sold as a way to cut costs for taxpayers by shifting the burden of building prisons to private companies. However, multiple studies have shown that private prisons, while saving dollars in the short term through lower infrastructure costs, end up costing taxpayers more in the long run. Private prisons do not have the same motivation as a public institution – rather than focusing on rehabilitation of the prisoners, the private prison focuses on ways to insure future profits and present cost-savings. We must change our position on private prisons – they do not offer the benefits they claim, and they can be used to hide abuses like the detention of migrant children and their families.
- In 2016, the Bureau of Prisons shut down several Texas private prisons. When Trump became president, the crackdown on immigration allowed for those prisons to enter into new agreements with the facilities to support ICE detention instead. It is no coincidence – GEO Group gave $170,000 to a PAC supporting Trump’s bid for the presidency in 2016 called “Trump Victory”.
- Private prisons increase recidivism rates and do not decrease costs to the taxpayer. Their business model is dependent upon a return to investors and to maintain a population to keep returns high. Whereas a public institution focuses on rehabilitation and public safety, a private institution does not share the same goals or motivation.
- ICE has contracted with private prison companies to detain those who seek asylum at the border under Trump’s zero tolerance policy. Hancock voted for the conversion of a family detention center to a child care center in order to receive the contracts from ICE to detain immigrant children under Trump’s immigration policy! Even though the bill failed in the House, Hancock voted for it three times. GEO Group, one of the largest private prison operators, wrote the legislation as it was presented in the Senate and the House. The bill allowed for those “held solely for deportation out of the United States” to be held “for any period of time in a publicly or privately operated, licensed, nonsecure facility, including a family residential center…” This allowed GEO Group facilities to be turned into facilities to house immigrant families for an indefinite period of time, whereas under the existing law, they were should be released immediately.
To make changes to our criminal justice system, we must remember that all Texans deserve a better education, a better chance at fairness, and a right to justice under the law. We cannot continue to keep policies in place that promote discriminatory prosecutions or that put profits above the rights granted to us by the Constitution.