Bexar County is becoming a leader in what is called 'therapeutic justice,' which proponents say scraps the 'lock 'em up and throw away the key' criminal justice theory which was so popular in the 1990s, replacing it with a system which is proven to produce far fewer repeat offenders, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff says the system includes punishment and restitution, but it also recognizes the root causes of crime, and helps the offender deal with them.
"They're people who got addicted to drugs," he said. "They have mental health problems. They are not criminals, they were sick."
But he says the old system of simply warehousing these people with hardened criminals and gang members simply turns troubled people into criminals, and leads to people who are far less likely to be able to get a job and become a productive member of society once they get out of prison, and more than 95% of all incarcerated criminals will be released.
"The idea is to try to help someone become and remain a productive member of society, let them stay with their family, rather than make them worse than they were when they came into the system."
Bexar County is no stranger to therapeutic justice. Under Wolff's direction special Drug Courts, Veterans Courts, and other specialty courts now handle a significant number of less violent offenders.
Murders and rapists, for example, are not eligible for the special courts.
"The courts address the root cause of a person's criminal behavior through counseling, substance abuse treatment, education, housing, and employment assistance," according to a statement from the County.