Biggest heads and biggest hearts, biggest various body parts,Doc Berman brings word that Texas now officially has the largest state prison population in the country, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, after California's inmate total declined last year. That's pretty impressive when you consider that Texas has just over 23 million residents, while more than 36 million people live in California. But we imprison more people than they do!
Let's sing another stupid Texas song!- The Austin Lounge Lizards "Stupid Texas Song"
Nationwide, one in 99 adults are incarcerated, reports Pew (see their report), with Texas leading the way. Even more astonishing, one in nine black men age 20-34 are incarcerated nationwide, according to a chart on page 6.
Interestingly, despite our state topping the incarceration charts, Pew cited legislative initiatives by Sen. John Whitmire and Rep. Jerry Madden in 2007 as a positive example of changing policies to manage booming corrections populations without reducing public safety (p. 17-18):
Between 1985 and 2005, the Texas prison population jumped 300 percent, forcing a vast expansion of prison capacity. After investing $2.3 billion to add 108,000 beds, Texas didn’t get much of a breather. Within less than a decade, its prisons were teeming and experts forecast the arrival of another 14,000-17,000 inmates within five years.In addition to having the largest prison population in the country, more than half a million additional Texans are on probation or parole, meaning about one in 20 adult Texans currently is under either institutional or community supervision of the criminal justice system.
In 2007, legislators from both parties decided it was time for a course change. Rather than spend $523 million on more prison cells, they authorized a virtual makeover of the correctional system.
Anchoring their approach was a dramatic expansion of drug treatment and diversion beds, many of them in secure facilities. Legislators also approved broad changes in parole practices and expanded drug courts. In all, the reforms are expected to save Texas $210 million over the next two years—plus an additional $233 million if the recidivism rate drops and the state can avoid contingency plans to build three new prisons.
“It’s always been safer politically to build the next prison, rather than stop and see whether that’s really the smartest thing to do,” said state Sen. John Whitmire of Houston, chairman of the senate’s criminal justice committee. “But we’re at a point where I don’t think we can afford to do that anymore.”
At the start of 2008, the future looked promising in the Lone Star state. For the next five years, new projections by the Legislative Budget Board show, the prison trend is a flat line.
MORE: See MSM coverage from the Houston Chronicle, the Washington Post and the New York Times. Pete at Drug War Rants pulls some big-picture lowlights from the report, Simple Justice examines the counterspin from incarceration supporters, and Rev. Alan Bean at the Friends of Justice blog adds his two cents.