what is striking, experts say, is how some states with reputations for being tough on crime are most rapidly embracing these policies, which might have once been dismissed as the product of liberal think tanks and soft-on-crime leniency.
Texas is a case in point. From 1978 to 2004, the inmate population rose 573 percent and the state's population increased 67 percent. [Ed. note: I wonder where that data came from?] With hard sentencing laws and some conservative judges, Texas built a "lock 'em up" reputation. The state has more than 155,00 inmates and leads the nation in putting prisoners to death.
But two years ago, Texas officials were faced with an alarming projection: By 2012, the state would need 17,000 more beds, which would mean building eight prisons at a cost of nearly $1 billion.
State Rep. Jerry Madden, a self-described conservative Republican, had just taken over as chairman of the Texas House committee on corrections. "I started asking questions," he said in a phone interview. To avoid building more beds for more prisoners, Madden said, "You either got to slow 'em going in, or speed 'em going out. And Texas is not a state that says, 'Speed 'em up going out.' "
Madden said he pulled together experts from conservative and liberal think tanks. "When it came to prison ideas that work, they all agreed," he said.
The changes, implemented in the 2007 legislative session, included more funding for drug and DWI courts. New rules shortened the average probation time from 10 years to five. With about 445,000 people on probation, the system had become "the Number One feeder to the prison system," said Ana Yáñez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a progressive group.
The state also ordered the parole board to raise its parole rate to an earlier number of 31 percent; the proportion of eligible inmates granted parole had slipped to 26 percent.
With those changes in place, prison population growth slowed to a trickle. From January 2007 until December 2008, Texas added 529 inmates to its total, a tenth of what was projected.
C. West Huddleston, chief executive of the Alexandria-based National Association of Drug Court Professionals, said Texas may have been in a better position than other states to make such dramatic changes because its prison growth was so much worse.
"Texas is a remarkable example of how to take control of an explosive prison population," he said. "If Texas can do it, any state can do it."
Via Doc Berman.