March 28, 2013
The Texas state legislature meets every other year for a five month term of frenzied law-making. This spring we are in the midst of one of these legislative sessions. I recently learned of a proposed bill that involves restorative justice, which has some interesting pieces to it. This bill, S.B. 1237 , expressly authorizes the state to refer criminal cases to an “alternative dispute resolution system” if one already exists in the county. This can happen “regardless of whether the
defendant in the criminal case has been formally charged.” However, “the state must obtain the consent of the victim to the referral.”
Apparently the contentious issue in this bill is how it will be funded as it authorizes the “entity that provides services for the resolution of criminal disputes under this chapter” to “collect a reasonable fee set by the commissioners court from a person who received the services, not to exceed $350.” The bill states this fee cannot be collected from the victim.
My sources tell me that ordering the offender to pay is the issue that may keep this bill from becoming a law due to concern that defendants will be forced to pay for these services, even if they have not been charged or convicted of a crime. I find it interesting that the substance of the bill–whether to use restorative justice in criminal cases–is not the sticking point and the use of restorative justice seems to be accepted as a good idea.
Despite this apparent acceptance in Austin, Texas does not frequently use restorative justice processes such as conferencing or victim offender mediation to resolve criminal cases pre-conviction. The exception seems to be in juvenile cases, which is not unusual in the USA. The heavier use of restorative justice in Texas seems to be post-conviction which this bill, as I read it, would not affect.
It seems unlikely that this bill will pass but the fact that it was seriously discussed and made it out of committee indicates to me that Texas, like other states in this country, is continuing to look at ways to reform their criminal justice system and moving beyond simplistic “lock ‘em up” policies and proposals. Texas is already an active user of problem solving courts, such as drug courts and mental health courts. Reports indicate that the increased use of these alternative processes may be one reason why Texas recently reduced its incarceration rate for the first time in decades. See here. For example, Texas is one of a handful of states in this country that requires drug courts in any county with a population of more than 200,000. This bill is an indication that even restorative justice may become more common in Texas. Maybe.
Last 5 posts by Cynthia Alkon
- Intervening to fix a “Meet and Plead” System - December 10th, 2013
- Texas A&M Dean Search - November 23rd, 2013
- The Latest Supreme Court Case on Plea Bargaining, or Not - November 9th, 2013
- An Unfortunate Proposal to Encourage Plea Bargaining Early and Often - November 3rd, 2013
- Federal Problem Solving Courts - October 25th, 2013