Criminal Justice

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Senator Whitmire has served as Chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee for much of his 30 years in the Senate. Senator Whitmire's approach to being tough, but smart on crime has made Texas the national model for criminal justice reform.

Senator Whitmire's approach has saved the state hundreds of millions of dollars by reducing the need for costly prisons and focusing on treatment and rehabilitation in the community. Under Whitmire's leadership, Texas has closed 3 adult prisons and decreased its juvenile prison system by over half.

Treating and rehabilitating low-level offenders saves money, lives and families and allows the State of Texas to continue its reputation of being tough on dangerous, violent criminals.

Senator Whitmire has also worked closely with his colleagues to create a more just system where everyone has access to fair representation, district attorneys are held accountable, the guilty are punished, and the wrongfully convicted are freed.

 

Criminal Justice Advances: Three Decades Of Progress

 

  • 1993: Named chair of Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

 

  • 1993: Led an overhaul of Texas’ criminal laws, repealing dozens of archaic statutes and establishing a state jail system to reform for non-violent, low-level offenders.

 

  • 1994: Along with Gov. Ann Richards, pushed for a special review of battered women who were serving prison time to see whether they deserved a parole.

 

  • 1995: Championed juvenile justice reforms, including “graduated sanctions model,” designed to get more positive outcomes in low-level, non-violent cases.

 

  • 1996: Championed efforts to establish and improve the state jail system with a new treatment-oriented program designed to help low-level, non-violent offenders break the cycle of crime and become law-abiding citizens.

 

  • 1997: Led efforts to investigate and overhaul the prison system contracts system after the Vita Pro food scandal — including creating new rules to ensure public transparency of the system.

 

  • 1998: Successfully pushed for reforms to the parole “blue warrant” and revocation process that allowed many offenders to get out of jail without proper supervision and held others in jail for months without hearings.

 

  • 1998: Led efforts to increase penalties for repeat sex predators to better protect victims, especially children, to try to prevent them from committing new crimes.

 

  • 1999: Championed improved conditions and higher pay for correctional officers, along with additional programs for release-bound convicts to reduce growing tensions and violence in prisons.

 

  • 2000: Led efforts to expedite testing by state crime labs that were backlogged by months or years, especially in cases of rape, in a continuing campaign to improve the labs.

 

  • 2001: Supported DNA testing of evidence to solve additional crimes and ensure against false convictions along with preserving evidence in felony cases for future testing.

 

  • 2002: Pushed for changes to improve reporting of deaths in prisons and local jails to ensure against abuse from poor conditions or lax oversight.

 

  • 2003: Passed legislation to free Texans who were wrongfully convicted in the infamous Tulia drug raid. Released from prison on bond, they were later pardoned by the Governor.

 

  • 2004: Led legislative efforts to provide adequate funding for prison and parole drug-and alcohol-treatment programs, a much cheaper alternative as well as a way to lower recidivism.

 

  • 2005: Worked to see that Texas Youth Commission was placed into conservatorship amid confirmed sex abuses of youths in custody, increasing violence inside lockups and wrongdoing by top officials. 

 

  • 2006: Championed new parole board review procedures to ensure that cases were properly considered and that inmates who are released do not pose a threat to public safety.

 

  • 2007: Led effort to expand prison drug-and alcohol-treatment programs in lieu of building more prisons. Initiative saved taxpayers $500 million and lowered recidivism. Also passed legislation for second stage of juvenile justice reforms designed to make state lockups safer and protect younger offenders from violence by older youths.

 

  • 2008: Supported passage of the Timothy Cole Act to prevent and uncover wrongful convictions and provide compensation for the wrongfully convicted. The program has become a national model.

 

  • 2009: After receiving phone calls from death row convict Richard Tabler, an incident that brought a death threat from Tabler and a lockdown and contraband sweep of the all 112 state prisons, championed changes in state law to ban cell phones from prisons.

 

  • 2009: Spearheaded changes in juvenile justice to keep low-level teenaged offenders closer to home and to provide better health care, mental health care services and education programs so they would come out of the juvenile justice system better than when they were locked up.

 

  • 2010: Responsible for creation of the prison system’s BAMBI program (Baby and Mother Bonding Initiative) to keep new mothers from being separated from their babies at birth. The program has become a national model.

 

  • 2010: Led efforts to expedite testing by state crime labs that were backlogged by months or years, especially in cases of rape, in a continuing campaign to improve the labs.

 

  • 2010: Successfully lobbied for changes to state rules to allow terminally-ill offenders to be released to die at home and to parole some elderly and medically-incapacitated inmates who posed no threat to the public and could be paroled to nursing homes paid for with federal funds.

 

  • 2011: After convict Lawrence Russell Brewer refused to eat an extensive last meal he ordered before his execution, successfully halted the longstanding practice.

 

  • 2012: Led efforts to further reform the state’s juvenile justice system, focusing on ensuring that the increasing number of violent offenders received appropriate

treatment and secure housing. Also advocated for changes in prison operations after sweltering conditions were blamed for inmate deaths, though the cost of air conditioning all prisons was prohibitive.

 

  • 2013: Spearheaded passage of legislation to ensure juveniles were not unfairly targeted by overzealous school ticketing practices that resulted in criminal records, especially minority students.

 

  • 2014: Continued efforts to improve juvenile justice, advocating for counties to provide treatment programs for teenaged offenders rather than sending them to a state lockup where recidivism rates are much higher.

 

  • 2015: Along with now-Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, helped create a seminary in prison to train inmates with lengthy sentences as ministers. The program now has more than 170 ministers at 35 prisons across Texas.

 

  • 2015: Led reforms of Texas violent sex offender program to ensure the program remained constitutional, provided treatment and did not release predators without strict supervision so there could be no new victims. 

 

  • 2016: Led efforts to reform jail housing and mental health supervision to prevent suicides and assaults after the death of Sandra Bland, who hanged herself in jail after being arrested for a traffic offense that carried no jail time.

 

  • 2017: Co-sponsored the Sandra Bland Act, the first step in sweeping changes to jail policies designed to guard against abuses of mentally unstable defendants after their arrest. Also led efforts to provide additional educational opportunities for prison inmates to allow them a better chance of a successful reentry into the community when they completed their sentence.

 

  • 2018: As a result of the 2007 reforms, Texas’ overall incarceration rate had dropped 17 percent, resulting in lower populations in prisons and county jails. Led efforts to require courts for the first time to provide alternatives to jail for people who could not pay fines— a change that led to a substantial drop in the number of people jailed due to a legal debt.

 

  • 2019: Led efforts to reform the state’s bail bond system to keep non-violent, low-level offenders out of jail, with protections for law-abiding citizens.

 

  • 2020: With the outbreak of COVID, championed expedited reviews to get convicts already approved for parole out of prisons that were soon overwhelmed with positive COVID cases. Also led efforts to provide COVID health protection to protect inmates and prison staff.

 

  • 2021: Amended and passed a bill allowing for Second Chance review of long prison sentences after 20 years to allow for parole consideration in certain cases.

 

  • 2021: Co-sponsored a new animal welfare law that prohibited the chaining of dogs in yards for long periods, especially under inclement conditions.