Five strikes law for misdemeanors proposed by Texas legislators

Hays County Jail cells
Hays County Jail cells (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (NEXSTAR) — Unofficially known as the “Career Criminal Bill,” House Bill 383 would enhance punishments for repeat offenders who commit crimes less serious than a felony.

Similar to the federal “three strikes” law for felony convictions, House Bill 383 would impose a five strikes rule on misdemeanors in Texas.

Under the proposal, five class A misdemeanor convictions within 10 years would equal a felony and repeat offenders would be sent to a state prison to serve a longer sentence.

State Rep. Jim Murphy said his bill would give repeat offenders more time behind bars and more access to rehabilitative and educational programs. The Houston Republican said, “If you need to detox you can’t do that in 30 days. If you need to learn to read, or to weld, or deal with anger management, a six month program is much more effective for doing that.”

The Texas Department of Public Safety estimates the bill would send about 19,000 people to state prisons for misdemeanors per year. “And all of those people will have to go somewhere,” said Doug Smith, a policy analyst for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

He added the bill would “invariably increase growth” in the state prison system and further over-incarceration in Texas. Smith said, “That would be huge cost to the state and will actually increase the likelihood of those individuals cycling in and out of the system.”

He believes the bill is too broad and that if people who commit “low-level crimes” are put in a felony system, they would be more likely to re-offend. “The last thing you want to do is continue to arrest and incarcerate, that’s like doing the same thing and expecting different results,” Smith said.

Murphy agreed change is needed to get a different outcome, which is why his bill would send repeat offenders to state prisons, not county jails. “This is somebody that the criminal justice system at the county level just has not produced the results we want,” Murphy explained.

Texas Criminal Justice Coalition proposes the state increase investments to community supervision at the misdemeanor level and make sure all those individuals have access to substance abuse and mental health support programs.

Smith said, “If our goal is to decrease crime then we need to do what we know works and doing it at the pre-trial level works.” The average stay at a state prison is about ten months and Smith said, “During that time they’ll receive little to no real treatment.”

Murphy argued state prisons have more programs to help rehabilitate inmates than more counties do. Several local and statewide law enforcement agencies testified in favor of the bill, which the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence passed earlier this month.

HB 383 has yet to be scheduled for a vote on the House floor.

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