Rick Perry, the former Texas governor and current U.S. Energy Secretary, has endorsed two proposed criminal justice reforms currently in the Texas legislature that would help people who have been charged or convicted of crimes.
Writing in the Houston Chronicle, Perry touted reforms that took place during his tenure as governor that helped reduce Texas’ massive prison population.
He said he had initially been skeptical about reforms, but eventually came to recognize their value and worth in cutting costs. He wrote:
“It was during my time as governor that Texas shifted its mentality on corrections and sparked a nationwide, conservative criminal-justice movement.”
The two bills Perry supported seek to make the grand jury process more fair for people under investigation and to allow more offenders’ records to be sealed for certain crimes.
Making The Grand Jury Process More Transparent in Texas
A bill by Republican Senator Dawn Buckingham aims to reform the grand jury system. The original House bill would have allowed the attorneys of suspects to be present during questioning and prevented prosecutors from going to another grand jury if the first one declined to indict.
A revised version was approved by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee last week. It would require a prosecutor to receive judicial approval before bringing a case back before a grand jury after a first jury declined to indict.
The measure is intended to prevent ‘double jeopardy’. A suspect would only return before a grand jury when there was new evidence.
Concerns about the grand jury system in Texas have been expressed for some time. An investigation in the Houston Chronicle in 2014 found jurors were collaborating with prosecutors to intimidate witnesses.
The second bill supported by Perry from state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, is intended to allow people convicted of less serious crimes to seal their criminal records.
Allowing Certain First Time Offenders to Seal Their Criminal Records
Thompson’s bill would permit some first-time, low-level offenders to seal their criminal records. The move would make it easier for them to apply for jobs after serving their sentences. It would not apply to violent offenders.
The bill overwhelmingly passed in the House. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee held a hearing on the legislation last week.
Thompson said these people should have an opportunity to make a living and not be held back by a previous conviction.
In the article, Perry said in 2007 Texas required thousands of new prison beds. He instead put the money earmarked for expanding prisons into treatment programs.
If you have been charged with a crime in the Dallas area, you should contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer.