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Reaching across the aisle

They say we’re the most partisan electorate in a generation. But it hasn’t always been that way in our houses of Congress and our state Senate chambers. Cross-party relationships have spurred myriad legislation. Just today the New York Times published a video on Ted Kennedy and Mitt Romney’s unorthodox partnership. One of the best examples of Democrats and Republicans coming together is the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, later named the McCain-Feingold Bill after its spearheaders, Russ Feingold and John McCain.

Texas, a state known for its tough-on-crime position, has benefited from the work of two legislators crossing the ideological divide. State Sen. John Whitmire of the 15th district had long been an advocate of prison reform in the state. So when State Rep. Jerry Madden of the 67th district heeded Governor Rick Perry’s declaration that he wanted no new prisons built, the two created an unlikely coalition.

State Senator John Whitmire and State Representative Jerry Madden. Photo: Texas Senate Media

We chronicle this story and that of the reentry court system these two individuals have been able to set up for non-violent offenders to get out of jail and into rehabilitation programs. It’s a remarkable story both of bipartisan efforts but also of the power to alter the course of so many lives in the process.

Tell us, what do you think is the root cause of overcrowding in our prisons? What other issues could benefit from a bipartisan effort?



  • Nancyjam

    I think the root cause of prison overcrowding is the “war on drugs’ – It has resulted in incarceration of countless drug users, while taking a very different approach to alcohol use, which is more prevalent and very costly to our society.

  • Janethebooklady

    Decriminalization of drugs would be a great first step.  Without Prohibition we would not have had Al Capone.  Take the business away from criminals and put it into the hands of taxpaying  businesses.   We would then be able to address the second big issue: Education.  The vast majority of prison inmates are functionally  illiterate. Without education, citizens are unable to succeed, and perhaps unable to participate, in a civil society. 

  • ml

    The dental industry will boom with all the meth chompers running around!

  • Joan Hall

    This method of prison reform has been known for over 60 years.  Politicians, using fear, have used it on the public to get elected.  Finally, 2 men in Texas, one a Republican the other a Democrat, were able to bring it to life.  Nixon used it to scare people about China.  As soon as he got elected, he found a way to go to China – for reelection purposes among other reasons.  Why is the America public so uneducated????????

  • Marilyn

    It is hard to imagine old school, tough on crime California politicians being willing to try this program.  

    An official from the Donovan prison in San Diego said on a radio program that they reduced their recidivism rate from 70%! to 21% because of their rehab, job and life skills, and education programs.  That saved a huge amount of our tax dollars and helped reduce new crime with new victims. 

    Using false economy and faulty logic the programs were almost eliminated and now the state wants to cut them more.  That only makes sense if you are a prison profiteer who benefits when there are more prisoners; for-profit, corporation prisons, prison employees, bail bond industry, prison supply companies, etc.

    The Supreme Court upheld  the Constitution and California must reduce the number of prisoners it packs in like feedlot cattle.  California should take note of the efforts to save money and salvageable lives in Texas.

  • photoshock

    There is one idea that seems to pervade the electorate and the representatives of this nation, that of continuing the ” war on marijuana.” Marijuana rather than being a ” gate drug,” used by adults and those of sound mind, should not be a criminal offense even to grow wholesale for others to use. 
    The brainstorm of the 1930′s was to criminalize marijuana based on racially biased motivations. The fact is marijuana use was prevalent in the Mexican-American population and also the African-American population, due to its lesser cost and affects. Marijuana decriminalization should become a rallying cry for the conservatives based in our country. If as a populace, Americans wanted to decriminalize this drug, then the legislatures of our states and nation would have to heed the people. We need a strong movement to decriminalize marijuana. NORML should become an organization that is listened to and helped. Stop the madness of criminalizing marijuana! 

  • Sharon

    The biggest causes of overcrowding in our prisons: 1) overcriminalization – the government has made things criminal that should not be. (arresting a woman for letter her hedges grow too tall and a teen for eating french fries on the subway are good examples). 2) money – the prisons are paid per capital. (Why release when there’s money to be made?) We need to quit putting people in jail for possession of small amounts of any drug. Having enough for selling and distributing is a different matter.