“IT WAS THE STUPIDEST THING THE STATE of Texas has ever done,” Andy Collins said about his crowning achievement, his oversight of the greatest expansion of prison beds in the history of the free world. “The public was absolutely hoodwinked into thinking that the only way the crime problem could ever be solved was prosecution and incarceration. We should’ve been interceding at an earlier age, dealing with these kids before they ever became crooks. But instead, we’re just taking juveniles and feeding them directly into the system. I mean, look who was behind it all. Prosecutors, cops, politicians—all of them with a self-serving agenda.With 20/20 hindsight, that assessment looks pretty solid. Draper said of the media and politicians of the era, "So eager were they to sate the public’s bloodlust for locking up criminals and throwing away the key that they helped create a climate of hysteria in which corruption could flourish."
“And the media,” Collins declared as he leaned over the patio table at his suburban home just north of Houston, delivering the accusation with a martyr’s relish. “The goddam media did as much as anyone to build all those prisons because they fanned the flames of public hysteria. The issue of crime has become entertainment. Turn on the TV. Cops. Rescue 911. That kind of crap.
When Gov. Ann Richards was elected in 1990, Texas operated fewer than 50,000 prison beds; today we're at 154,000, with most of the expansion authorized during her tenure. Even by 1996, from Draper's perspective, the whole thing seemed problematic. "The dust from the prison expansion has now settled, and we are left with a sorry mess indeed."