With committee assignments out and the hiring of committee staff out of the way, this week continued to build on the others both legislatively and administratively. This week I had the opportunity to preside over my first committee hearing as chairman. The committee heard testimony from criminal justice agencies responsible for ensuring community safety.
Bryan Collier the Executive Director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) provided an extensive and thorough update on the operations, facilities, and programs of the state’s corrections system. Since taking on the role of executive director of TDCJ, Mr. Collier’s breadth of experience and longevity within TDCJ has provided a unique mix of innovation and stability within TDCJ. With Director Collier at the helm, Texans are assured that the men and women of TDCJ are focused on maintaining community safety, restoring victims of crime, and rehabilitating criminal offenders.
Another critical aspect of TDCJ is community supervision or probation. The ultimate goal of our criminal justice system is the punish the wrongdoer that threatens our life, liberty, and property. Our primary focus is restoring the victim, however, we must also ensure that we effectively rehabilitated the offender. Unquestionably, we must incarcerate criminals that endanger and take innocent life or pose substantial threats to our property. We spend at least an estimated $22,000 a year to incarcerate inmates in Texas. After thoughtful deliberation among victims, our local judges, district attorneys, law enforcement, and adult probation officers, community supervision often provides more effective and efficient punishment, victim restitution, and offender rehabilitation. As a rural adult probation chief in Jasper County, Chief Chris Thomas did a very good job explaining to the Corrections Committee the advantages of probation in contributing to community safety. For example, incarceration per inmate is $60/day versus, $4/day on community supervision.
In addition, the Legislative Budget Board provided an overview of the fiscal state of our corrections system and the funding expected from the budget the legislature will debate and vote on later in the session. Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles Chairman David Gutierrez, testified on the current state of the agencies operations. I was very pleased that Chairman Gutierrez is focused on the concerns of victims and victims’ families, along with the concerns of our local officials in the criminal justice system. Dr. Clint Carpenter, the superintendent of Windham School District, gave the Committee an overview of the educational curriculum and programming the district provides at TDCJ facilities. Lastly, Marsha McLane with the Texas Civil Commitment Office provided insight into their current charges and upcoming programming for civilly committed sex offenders. Due to overreaching interference by federal courts, Texas is required to release certain sex offenders into our communities. Despite this, the Legislature created the Texas Civil Commitment Office in order to provide optimum supervision and rehabilitation. The hearing was a very productive conversation with these outstanding agencies and look forward to continuing to review and improve our criminal justice system.
I was also blessed to attend the Texas Prayer Breakfast hosted by Rep. Scott Sanford. This event is put on every session and draws many members regardless of party or faith affiliations for a time to thank God for allowing us to serve the great State of Texas. I enjoyed hearing Bishop W.C. Martin’s powerful speech on how his faith and personal convictions have made him passionate about reforming the foster care system and promoting the adoption of our vulnerable children.
Lastly, we have experienced plenty of discussion revolving around “sanctuary cities.” A municipality becomes a sanctuary city mayor and city council prohibit their local law enforcement from cooperating with the U. S. Immigration and Customs (ICE). Often, when local law enforcement officials make an arrest, ICE will issue detainers and request the local enforcement agency to hold these people. The reason ICE does this is because these people have seriously violated our immigration laws or are involved in a serious crime. Disregarding ICE interferes with public safety and may be even exposes our local communities to domestic terror attacks. The Texas House will work to address this issue by prohibiting governmental entities from adopting rules, orders, ordinances, or policies that prohibit or discourage the enforcement of our federal and state laws and asking these entities to cooperate with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). My colleagues and I will ensure that law enforcement agencies notify the magistrate or judge if the federal government has identified a person as an undocumented alien or if a federal detainer request has been issues. In addition, state funds will be denied and monetary penalties will be issued to entities that are found to be in violation of the law. The Capitol of Texas belongs to you and visiting the Capitol during the biennial legislative session is a great experience. To assist in arranging your visit please call Saul Mendoza, my Chief of Staff, at (512) 463-0490 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- James White is a Texas State Representative for Hardin, Jasper, Newton, Polk, and Tyler counties. He graduated with a doctorate in political science from the University of Houston. White served in the U.S. Army and worked as a public school educator and coach before being elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 2010. During his time as a Representative, White has worked on issues such as taxes, school funding, mental health, and more. He maintains a cattle ranch in Tyler County, attends Hillister Baptist Church, and is a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, and the Texas Farm Bureau.