New Report calls for smart sentencing, not incarceration, to address substance use effectively

Published 7:29 am Wednesday, March 24, 2021

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To The Leader

 AUSTIN, Texas — The Texas Smart-on-Crime Coalition released “Smart Sentencing: The Right Strategy for Addressing Substance Use in Texas, a report highlighting the coalition’s recommendations to address the critical issues that come with incarcerating individuals for their drug addiction.

Smart Sentencing provides a timely overview of issues that the Texas Legislature is currently considering, including House Bill 1086 and Senate Bill 1005. House Bill 1086 will be heard in the House Criminal Justice Committee today.

“Incarceration is less effective and more costly than community supervision and treatment for low-level drug offenses. This is an issue that can and should receive broad support,” said Representative Joe Moody (D-El Paso), author of HB 1086.

The Smart-On-Crime Coalition’s new report notes the broad-based support such reforms have among voters, as well as highlighting real stories of lived experiences from Texans overcoming obstacles from incarceration for substance use.

“We’re asking state lawmakers to embrace reform, including reducing penalties for a range of state jail felony offenses, closing unnecessary facilities, reallocating funding to alternatives to incarceration and clearing court backlogs,” said Doug Smith of Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJC), a member of the Texas Smart-On-Crime Coalition.

“The cost to the state for incarceration for the lowest level of drug possessions is more than $105 million annually, and for all of this expense, Texans are no safer and those struggling with substance abuse face obstacles to rehabilitation and employment,” said Terra Tucker, Texas State Director for Alliance for Safety and Justice, a Texas Smart-On-Crime Coalition member.

Smart Sentencing includes four common-sense policy recommendations:

  • Pass legislation that reduces penalties for a range of state jail felony offenses, including drug possession.
  • Close unnecessary facilities to conserve state funds.
  • By reducing prison capacity, savings can be reinvested in treatment alternatives and trauma recovery services for survivors.
  • Clear court backlogs by diverting certain drug-related cases and reducing penalties to reduce the burden on our courts and overcrowded jails.

The coalition found that moving low level offenses down from the felony to misdemeanor level would allow people that pose no threat to public safety to remain in the community, contributing to the tax base and supporting themselves and their families.

“The data has informed policy makers that State Jails are not the right corrections solution for people arrested for drug possession. There’s a more effective strategy” said Penny Rayfield representing the Texas Association of Business, a Texas Smart-On-Crime coalition member.  “With recidivism rates so high, a better use of Texas taxpayer dollars would be to focus on diversion and treatment programs that are evidence based and have a proven track record of success.”

The full Smart Sentencing report is online at

The Texas Smart-On-Crime Coalition is the largest statewide effort working to make Texas’ criminal justice system smarter, safer, and more cost effective. The Coalition brings together businesses, faith organizations, nonprofit organizations, and the state’s most prominent conservative and progressive advocacy organizations to pursue a plan to address, reduce, and prevent crime.

Members of the coalition include the Texas Association of Business, Texas Public Policy Foundation, Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, Prison Fellowship, Alliance for Safety and Justice, Christian Life Commission, Goodwill Central Texas, Texas Association of Goodwills, and ACLU of Texas.  Online at