In the 1990s and 2000s, states pursued the expensive goal of being tough on crime. Now, with budgets strained near breaking points, those states are trying to cut costs by being smart on crime. Reducing crime rates, recidivism and prison populations isn’t just good for society, after all, it’s good for a state’s bottom line.

And despite Texas’s reputation as the home of draconian crime policies, no other state has adopted more alternatives to traditional incarceration — and reduced the number of prisoners it must pay to house. No other state has reduced its prison population and incarceration rate as much.

Texas’s success had its beginnings in 2006, when state Sen. John Whitmire (D), state Rep. Jerry Madden (R) and corrections expert Tony Fabelo crafted an alternative to a pricey plan to add thousands of new prison beds. The package they presented to legislators included new inpatient and outpatient substance-abuse programs, sentencing alternatives such as pretrial diversion programs that kept minor offenders out of prison, and options to house parole violators in temporary holding sites that aren’t as harsh as prisons. the trio asked for about $250 million, about half the money that would have been required to build new prisons.

“They funded programs rather than prisons,” said Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project at the Pew Charitable Trusts.

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