Texas Likely to Allow Guns on Campus
By John Gramlich, Staff Writer
GUNS ON CAMPUS: More than half the members of the Texas House of Representatives say they will support legislation to allow guns on college campuses, making it likely the measure will become law this year, according to The Associated Press . The Texas Senate passed a similar bill in 2009 and is expected to do so again. Governor Rick Perry — "who sometimes packs a pistol when he jogs," according to the AP — also endorses the plan. Texas would become just the second state (Utah is the other) to explicitly allow guns on public campuses, though 23 other states are silent on the matter, leaving it up to individual institutions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures . Texas has 38 public colleges with more than 500,000 students.
DEADLY FORCE: South Dakota lawmakers considered legislation earlier this month giving residents the right to defend unborn babies with deadly force if need be. But the bill drew fire nationally because, under one interpretation, it might allow for the murder of abortion providers by those philosophically opposed to the procedure. Amid the furor, lawmakers have shelved the bill for now. In the meantime, similar legislation is being considered in Nebraska , with some of the same concerns being raised by critics, as the Lincoln Journal-Star reports .
SENTENCING LAWS: Lawmakers in at least 23 states changed their criminal sentencing policies last year, according to a new report from The Sentencing Project, a Washington, D.C., think tank that advocates for changes in state and federal penal codes. According to the annual report, " The State of Sentencing ," New Jersey made one of the most notable changes by giving trial judges the leeway to avoid mandatory minimum sentences for those who violate "drug-free school zones." Originally envisioned as a way to crack down on drug dealers who approach students, such zones have sparked debate in recent years as thousands of offenders have faced harsher penalties based on the location of their crimes — not whether the crimes actually involved students. In 2008, more than 3,600 people received tougher sentences in New Jersey because of the state's drug-free school zone law, The Sentencing Project finds.
PRISON VISITS: Budget cuts have created staffing shortages at many state prisons, leading correctional officers to warn of increasingly dangerous working conditions. One commonly overlooked aspect of staff reductions, however, is the effect they can have on prisoners themselves, and even their families. In Washington State , for example, "we've gone so far in the prisons that there are days when no visitors are allowed so that we don't have to manage the influx of people coming into the facility," Eva Santos, the state personnel director, said during a recent interview with Stateline . "We in essence lock down the facility."
SOCIAL IMPACT BONDS: It is common for states to sell bonds to finance major capital projects, including prison construction. But two criminal justice researchers are proposing a new idea: " social impact bonds " that states could offer to investors to support prisoner reentry efforts and other social programs that are commonly cut during budget crises — and which might help to keep crime rates low. The two researchers, John Roman and Jeffrey Butts, point to the United Kingdom, which they say sold a £5 million bond last year to help pay for services for 3,000 recently released inmates. Investors have been promised a 7.5 percent return on investment if the program reduces recidivism by 7.5 percent or more within six years. "For government, the bonds are nearly risk-free," Roman and Butts write. "If the program fails, no public funds are lost. If it succeeds, the government pays out only a fraction of the savings it receives from reducing the costs of arrest, prosecutions, and incarceration."