Thanks for your comment regarding our newest publication. We hoped that it would generate discussion on the topic.My apologies for the error.
There are many factors to consider in a cost analysis. We believe that we have put forth the most accurate report possible within the limits of the available data, and we appreciate the chance to respond to any comments.
The 2009 budget for TDCJ was $2.9 billion. However, this is an annual operating budget and not directly relevant to our calculation. Our calculation of $2.8 billion is not based on a single year but rather, on the cost of incarcerating an individual for an entire sentence. In Texas, the average nonserious offender is behind bars for approximately four years.
Specifically, our figure was derived by multiplying the number of nonserious offenders by the annual cost per capita times the average number of years served. According to the National Corrections Reporting Program, the average prison time served in Texas for nonserious drug offenders is 48.6 months and for other nonserious offenders is 38.4 months. Thus the weighted average cost of incarcerating nonserious offenders is 3.9 years per inmate. This times $17,400 per year is $69,405 per inmate. This is the key difference between your calculation and our report. We then multiply that total cost per inmate by 80% of nonserious offenders (or 40,821) and arrive at $2.8 billion.
Annual savings could be derived similarly by using new admissions to prison instead of the sitting population. We estimate that an annual cost savings would be roughly 1/3 of the one-time savings. This is another valid way to look at the issue. There is ample detail on our methods on pages 4 and 5 of the report, and in each state section.
The costs for alternatives come from reports by the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council and the Texas Legislative Budget Board. They represent costs of the programs that are run in Texas, adjusted for 2009.
We are glad that we agree on the importance of helping policymakers and the public understand that large numbers of inmates can be effectively sentenced to alternatives, saving tax-payer money and still protecting public safety.
Unfortunately, state budgetmakers (and my initial, erroneous post) look at savings in terms of short-term, two-year increments, which is one reason why it was remarkable that Texas made its 2007 and 2009 investments in prison diversion programming. While long-term numbers clearly support prison diversion, in the first biennium it was proposed, to budgeters diversion looked like an "extra" - something they could justify mainly because key committee chairman assured them it would let them avoid spending billions on new prisons (which turned out to be accurate).
Now a few years out, we can see that Texas' incarceration rates have dropped, that crime has not increased as a result, and that the number of Texas prisoners is actually dropping whereas earlier we were projected to need 17,000 more beds by 2012. But as these remarks point out, those investments pay off over a longer term than just the initial biennium.
Expanding on those investments, as NCCD advocates, represents the best path forward toward further reducing incarceration rates and actually beginning discussions in earnest about closing prisons and significantly reducing the number of prisoners.