Chapter Summary

This chapter focuses on the Texas’s approach to justice, primarily the impact of the state’s political culture on the justice system, and how the system has responded to issues such as prison overcrowding, poor prison conditions, and the rights of the accused.

Texans maintain a strong link to their frontier roots--a time when the guarantee of official justice was inconsistent. This contributes to the “tough on crime” attitude among Texans that is reflected in a very large prison system and high incarceration rates. The U.S. is the world leader in incarceration, and Texas ranks seventh-highest in the country in the rate of incarceration. Overcrowding in Texas prisons led to federal mandates to maintain minimum living conditions for prisoners, and Texas engaged in a large prison-building project to accommodate the increasing number of people sentenced to incarceration. A recent trend has been to focus on rehabilitation of nonviolent offenders to reduce recidivism. Texas leads the nation in executions, and the death penalty continues to be widely accepted despite its financial costs, although it is becoming less popular outside the state. In addition, tort reform has limited the ability of plaintiffs to seek what they see as proper justice for civil wrongs perpetrated in Texas. Reforms in 2003 limited the amount of noneconomic damages to $250,000, and the 2011 “loser pay” law requires losing plaintiffs to pay the defendants’ legal costs in certain cases. These laws have been in response to increasing frustration that frivolous lawsuits have cost Texas businesses and taxpayers unnecessarily.