A new bill in the Texas Legislature could give prisoners a second chance. Keep reading for more information.
House Bill 3392
The “second chance” bill is under consideration by Texas lawmakers. If passed, it will allow qualifying inmates to receive a second look from the courts to review their sentences.
The bill will offer a second chance to:
- Inmates over 35 who have served at least 15 years
- Inmates over 50 who have served at least 10 years
An estimated 17,000 inmates in prison are 50 or older, and over 10,000 more have served for more than 20 years.
The bill has yet to be assigned to a committee, but the Grassroots Law Project, a nonprofit advocacy organization that organizes grassroots criminal justice reform movements, is working to line up witnesses for potential hearings.
The purpose of these hearings is to show evidence of the need for reform and a second chance for the thousands of inmates who continue to serve their time in prison dutifully.
Prisoners convicted of capital murder, sexual abuse of a child, sexual assault of a minor, and those serving life without parole are not eligible under the bill.
Many supporters see this bill as a long-overdue step toward more widespread criminal justice reform. In their view, someone imprisoned at 20 is not the same person at 50, so there is an opportunity to give them a chance to succeed and pursue a better life.
Critics of the bill point out that while the bill may be good in theory, it could cause widespread chaos for the District Attorneys. Not only would they need to spend time with the families once an inmate is up for a second chance and deal with the task of processing the inmates out of prison.
Why Does This Bill Matter?
House Bill 3392 matters for two reasons:
- Prison overcrowding
- Criminal justice reform
Prison overcrowding is a growing problem that affects prisons and jails across the country. In fact, the prison population in the U.S. is so massive that it accounts for the largest number of incarcerated people in the world.
Between the 1980s and 2010s, imprisonment skyrocketed from around 250,000 inmates nationwide to over 175,000 in federal and state prisons alone. When combined with the number of inmates in jails around the country, the total prison population in the U.S. is up to a whopping 2.2 million. To put it in perspective, that would be like if the entire population of Houston, Texas, was incarcerated.
The other reason why the second chance bill is essential is criminal justice reform. Over the last few years, and 2020 in particular, the general public has become aware of the extreme disparity between white prisoners and prisoners of color.
Statistically, people of color are more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, charged, and sentenced than white people. Additionally, people of color often receive a harsher sentence than other convicted individuals. Today, people of color make up 37% of the total U.S. population but an overwhelming 67% of the prison population.
So what does this have to do with House Bill 3392?
A Second Chance for a Whole Generation
Most of our prison problems escalated in the 1980s due to the popularity of the “tough on crime” political strategy. Politicians on both sides of the aisle, from Clinton to Reagan, promised Americans that they would take criminals off the street to keep America safe. Around this same time, drug crimes were on the rise, and the emergence of a new breed of criminal, the serial killer, had many Americans afraid to leave their homes.
Eventually, the tough stance on crime led to increased incarceration and longer prison sentences for those convicted. Now, lawmakers and advocacy organizations alike are grappling with a major criminal justice crisis.
Those incarcerated during the “tough on crime” era are old enough to qualify for a second chance if the bill passes. A whole generation of people could be free under the law. However, until the bill officially becomes law, it is unclear how these reforms could improve matters for prisoners.
Shane Phelps Law. will continue to follow this story as it develops.