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White Paper: Reforming Texas's Approach to State Jail Felonies

Executive Summary

The state jail system and state jail felonies were created in 1993 in order to help alleviate overcrowding in prison and county jails, to reduce low-level criminals from contact with violent offenders found in prisons, and to emphasize treatment and rehabilitation in order to reduce recidivism rates for low-level crimes. State jail felonies and state jails have been reformed several times in the ensuing decades and are now, despite their original mission, considered less effective than state prisons in terms of rehabilitating inmates and offenders.

A state jail felony is punishable by confinement in a state jail for 180 days to two years and a fine of up to $10,000. Time in state jails is served “day for day,” meaning that there is no parole and no extra time accrued for good behavior. However, Section 12.44 of the Texas Penal Code allows a person charged with a state jail felony to plead guilty and receive punishment as though he or she had committed a misdemeanor. As this paper explains, the accused often accrue good time served while awaiting disposition of their cases, so by the time the case reaches disposition, a felony conviction with misdemeanor sentence is an appealing option that allows quick release. This is a major contributor to the revolving door nature of state jail felonies. Essentially, Section 12.44 allows conviction and release. Despite reduced recidivism being an original goal of creating state jail felonies in the first place, state jail felons now recidivate at a higher rate than cohorts in state penitentiaries.

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