Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Annual prison releases dwarf those suggested by legislative budget cutters

A commenter on yesterday's Grits post reacting to bills that would release targeted, low-risk prisoners early, saving hundreds of millions of dollars, announced in grave tones (in part), "They have been removed from society and now they will soon be back with us and among us." I suppose I can understand that fearful reaction, since it or something like it is so common, but it represents an utterly ahistorical and uninformed view.

Tuff-on-crime persona aside, Texas already releases a LOT of prisoners every year. Counting both state jails and the institutional division, Texas released around 71,000 inmates from the Department of Criminal Justice during the last full fiscal year without any of these proposals. That means last year we released enough prisoners roughly to fill the city of Baytown! The parole board is full of Perry appointees, so don't blame Grits, "liberals," etc.. We now release more people from Texas prisons and state jails every year than were incarcerated en toto in 1990 when Governor Ann Richards was elected.

Such numbers reduce anxiety at the rather modest suggestions now being discussed by the Legislature. Indeed, it's for precisely that reason we can say proposed "early release" bills likely won't cause some renewed crime spree: These tens of thousands of annual prisoner releases over the last decade coincided with a period of dramatically declining statewide crime rates, particularly for violent crimes. Looking at the big picture, it's easy to see why: We have overcriminalized, sending too many low-risk offenders routinely to prison, which is why a) our recidivism rates are so low and b) we now must release more low-risk offenders to make room for more dangerous ones we plan to keep long-term. Indeed, from Grits' perspective most of the suggestions in play at the Lege this year seem rather modest compared to what's needed.

That's why IMO it's a fallacy to claim any pending legislation aimed at reducing unnecessary incarceration amounts to some new, radical policy, when it's far less ambitious than the less-publicized number of prisoner releases in Texas every year. Indeed, one of the great untold stories of Texas' criminal justice system is the large number of annual prisoner releases in the Perry era and the corresponding low recidivism rates and overall drop in crime that accompanied them, confounding these type of sky-is-falling predictions from the tuff-on-crime crowd.

Ed note: An earlier version of this post was corrected to delete a mistaken statistical comparison identified by an astute commenter. (Thanks for the open-sourced fact checking!)

30 comments:

Anonymous said...

Commentary by the "TUFF ON CRIME/FEAR MONGER CROWD" is why they are partial to riding the plastic palomino pony out in front of Wal-Mart.... they just love partaking in something that gives 'em something to do,but gets 'em nowhere....

Anonymous said...

There were 41,000 prison releases in 2001 and 42,000 prison releases in 2010. The other 30,000 releases in 2010 were state jail releases which aren't in the Parole Report as they have no authority over state jail releases. I don't know the number of state jail releases in 2001. Needless to say your point remains valid that there have been lots of releases during a period of dropping crime rates.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Doh! 1:02, thanks for the fact checking! I corrected the post, deleting the comparison because I can't find the 2001 state jail data. the TDCJ statistical reports are only online back to 2005.

Woodsy said...

And to think that the people they are discussing releasing, for the most part, are almost exclusively property and small-time drug offenders. Of my God, lock up your kids, the streets just won't be safe!!!

I'm serving 33 years on what was a 30-year sentence for a property offense I committed when I was 20 years-old. Since 1995, the maximum punishment for the offense is 20 years. I lost 3 years when parole officials issued a total of five warrants for my arrest, beginning two weeks after I testified before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee along side the family of Aubrey Hawkins, the police officer killed by the Connally Seven. SB 883 would alleviate the refusal of the state to credit me with the 3 years I served as a model parolee and a model citizen from 2000-2003.

I have a friend who last committed a criminal offense in 1987, burglary of a building. He received 45 years!!! The maximum punishment for that offense since 1995 is 2 years in a state jail facility. My friend also lost 3 years after he was locked up based on a domestic dispute complaint made by an ex-girlfriend (it used to be that easy to have a parolee arrested,sometimes still is). His discharge date is now 2035 instead of 2032. He hasn't had as much as a traffic ticket in 24 years!!!

I blame George W.Bush, Allan Pollunsky, and all the rat whores who had agendas of their own in the 1990's, whose policies we are just now realizing were wrong (e.g., Bush/Pollunsky shelved Ann Richards' vast in-prison therapeutic community and SAFP programs, opening 2 facilities instead of 10, and after they conned the public into giving them the money for the programs). In 2007 the Lege decided Bush was wrong, expanding the programs which have since resulted in lower parole revocation rates and greater numbers of successful parole discharges.

All the scare over non-violent, property offenders who, if this were any other state, would have discharged their sentences entirely a decade or more ago. Instead, we still have decades to serve. Meanwhile, "conservatives" complain about budget deficits while they give hand-jobs and fondling under the table to ideologues like Brad Livingston, Rissie Owens, and Co.???

Wendy said...

I don't understand how Woodsy is commenting on a post if he's serving time in prison??

A Texas PO said...

Having completed several trainings and attended numerous conferences dealing with our prison population and the little societies they prisoners create in our 120+ units, I can understand some of the concern and apprehension some people may feel towards what appears to the ill-informed as a mass release of prisoners. The average Texan doesn't pay attention to prison-related issues and often doesn't think about prisons unless the news breaks with a story about a prison escape. Beyond that, the average Texan only hears about people being sentenced to prison and prison gangs running amok. Since TDCJ does little to actually inform the public about the positive things they do (drug treatment, vocational training, etc.... even though lately very little positive has come out of TDCJ), the public only has a fear and assumes that all prisoners are gang members who are going to fill our streets and kill us all. This concern, though over-hyped, is of TDCJ and the Lege's own making.

Woodsy said...

Wendy, I committed my crime in 1993, am currently in freedom's land on parole. I'm a graduate student in the School of Urban & Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington, where I maintain a 4.0 gpa. I earned my B.A. last year summa cum laude. Not bragging, just qualifying myself to speak on these things. I forgot more about the criminal justice system in Texas than most legislators sitting on criminal justice and corrections committees will ever know if they studied the rest of their lives. Just speaking the truth, Sweetheart.

Soronel Haetir said...

I fail to see how you would qualify burglary as a non-violent offense. It is perhaps the quintessential escalation crime, one in in which the offender hopes to get away without violence but then the situation turns when confronted. 45 years for burglary seems quite reasonable (I would prefer execution but SCOTUS has foreclosed that possibility).

Wendy said...

Woodsy-glad you're qualified to speak on this issue especially since it's an issue that affects us all so we're really all qualified to speak on it. But FYI-the correct way to say that is serving 30 years paroled since 20--
Soronel-it's truly sad that there are people like you out there, even sadder many of you are in law enforcement or criminal justice system. Unfortunately people do make mistakes and I'm glad that we do give people and second chance instead of just shooting them even if you aren't.

Woodsy said...

Wendy, I was correct the first time I said it. I committed the crime at 20 years-old, wasn't paroled until 28. Went back as "technical" violator at 31 and wasn't re-released until 36. I've spent a total of almost 14 years inside maximum security prisons where I witnessed men being stabbed, beaten, and raped. In many of those incidents, while I was at the McConnell Unit in Beeville, guards would roll open cell doors to permit gang-related hits or thefts of property, which later would oftentimes result in a gang riot, beatings, and stabbings. I was there when the Blue Bandana gang of ruthless officers were there.

Soronel, you are a sick man (assuming you are male). Using your rationale, we ought to go ahead and execute kids stealing candy bars at Quik Trip, considering all (or nearly all) murderers and rapists stole candy bars and such as their first crime. Might as well get 'em before they commit rapes and murders, right?

FYI: Burglary of a building, for which my friend is serving 48 years on a 45-year sentence, was committed at a bar after it was closed and no one was even present, nothing was stolen, with minimal property damage. He ended up serving 12 and a half years before he made his first parole, and has been serving this sentence--at taxpayers' expense--for the last 24 years, with another 24 to go. This is not uncommon in Texas.

If we're going to execute all criminals, I say we start with Scooter Libby. Whaddya think? We can get Andy Collins next, considering the scumbag should have never got off in the first place. Due process? No need for that, just get a rope.

Soronel Haetir said...

I wouldn't be opposed to executing Libby. I do draw the line at requiring a felony however, which should eliminate most shoplifting.

Audrey said...

Woodsy - those long sentences and your experiences inside really show how outrageous this system is. While I was in I met so many people that would make upstanding citizens, if only they were released. Contrats on your studies...since I have been out I find that my three undergraduate majors and 30 plus years of business experience is now useless so will need to return to the university. It sounds like you have found an area of study that works and will benefit from your experience.

Soronel- would you also execute Martha Stewart? She stole from vast numbers of people with her SEC violations? That had a potential for violence had she been confronted by those who lost money because of her insider trading. Can you ever draw a line with your own violent thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Many politicians hold extensive stakes in The Vanguard Group, which invests heavily in the for-profit, private prisons. This obvious conflict of interest guarantees that our rate of incarceration will remain high regardless of costs to taxpayers.

Only the most naive among us would believe politicians make decisions that are in the best interests of the general public. Either they are profiting themselves directly, or indirectly through the enrichment of their cronies.

Lean budgets call for incarceration reductions right now, but nothing will be permanent. After all, the legislator is elevating some six dozen crimes to felonies that are currently misdemeanors.

Soronel Haetir said...

Audrey ,

That victims would possibly commit violence upon discovery of the offense is not, to my mind a valid basis for executing the criminal. And while I would not in theory oppose executing Stewart for her offense I don't believe the federal government legitimately possesses the authority to punish people for lying to its officers when not under oath when not in exclusively federal jurisdictions like D.C. or the various territories. I do, however, believe the states possess that power, whether they choose to exercise it being a matter for each legislature to decide. So with the understanding that Libby's conduct occurred in D.C. while Stewart's was in NY I would draw the difference on that basis alone, not on whether Stewart is not actually deserving of execution. If I am mistaken, and Libby's interviews were in Maryland or Virginia for example then I would be more than willing to say that the entire prosecution was unjust.

Ideally I would say that 75 to 90 percent of offenders would be executed upon a first felony conviction, with 100 percent of the remainder being executed upon a second felonious infraction.

Woodsy said...

The only way I would even consider supporting the death penalty would be if prosecuting att6orneys and the teams working under them are subject to its punishment when and if it is later determined that they withheld evidence, failed to follow other credible leads, or in some other way haphazardly prosecuted someone who ended up spending years in prison that he or she can never get back. A life for a life. Plenty of Dallas County prosecutors, cops and prosecutors all over the state would be more careful what they do and when they do it if this were the standard. These people have no respect for human life; all they care about are their own reputations and future. Once that is ruined, they should be automatically disbarred, jailed, and executed. Let's rid the world of those who took no regard for their actions with the intent to cause someone else's loss of life. The only process due should be the exoneration of the accused they attempted to execute (aka attempted murder). Because of their esteemed position in society, they should be held to a higher standard. Yet, they are not. The worst that could possibly happen to them is that they may lose their job -- and that's really stretching it. It is sad.

Soronel Haetir said...

I fully agree that the absolute immunity afforded prosecutors is unjust. I generally trust jurors to get it right, but in order for that trust to be well place we must also be able to trust that jurors aren't being misled, either purposefully or negligently.

Woodsy said...

For an interesting look at where this nation is headed along these lines, see this article http://news.yahoo.com/s/theweek/20110331/cm_theweek/213738_20110331151500

Anonymous said...

Woodsy, I am proud for you and the adversity you have overcome. I am afraid there are many more just like you in Texas prisons due to the ignorance of the public and overzealous prosecutors. I hope you will use your experience to educate the public about the results of the "tough on crime" mentality in this State.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"I fail to see how you would qualify burglary as a non-violent offense."

Uh ... by reading federal Uniform Crime Reports? :)

Don said...

I would suggest that it's not rational to debate Soronel, any more than his/her views are rational. People who are this radical need help, not confrontation. They feed on confrontation. I'm wondering if these posts are not somebody just trying to jerk us around and get attention. Sad, sad.

Sir Grumpy 1 said...

I found this article to be rather informative...BUT tell me this...What part did the fact that these 71,000 offenders were given the opportunity to get an EDUCATION AND A VOCATION play in the reduction of recidivism??? Windham School District plays a very important part of these offender's success...let's not throw them under the bus and dismiss their part in this equation...

Soronel Haetir said...

Don,

Mine is simply a consistently pro-death position. Execution, assisted suicide, abortion (should be encouraged though not mandated), war, all are to the good in my book.

The uniform crime report might treat burglary as a non-violent offense, but in other classifications the feds are more than happy to say that it is, such as it being one of the named predicate offenses for the armed career criminal act. Most states also provide a presumption that a confronted dwelling burglar (whether the burglar occupied the space first or not) is willing to commit violence upon a lawful resident of that dwelling.

sunray's wench said...

Soronel ~ does it not matter to you at all that most inmates have families who would be emotionally scarred if your wished to execute criminals were ever true? Would you really inflict that emotional abuse on the inmate's children?

And before you ask, I am pro death penalty, just not in the blanket way it is currently used.

Soronel Haetir said...

sunray's wench,

Given that I have at least two cousins and one uncle who would be executed under the policies I advocate (all for separate offenses) no, it wouldn't particularly bother me. Perhaps those family members should have done more to turn their loved ones away from crime before it got to that point. I advocate such a high rate of execution under the theory that felons having given up on society deserve to have society give up on them. We tolerate a vastly diverse range of lawful behavior, we need not tolerate those who choose to so flagrantly flout that acceptance.

Audrey said...

Being that innocent people get convicted time and again, and the appeals system is back logged and cumbersome. And, even then misses clearing wrongful convictions, how can one even consider the death penalty? Further, there appears to be very little consistency in sentencing like-crimes. As Woodsy points out, there are people doing 45 years while others do 2 years for the same or even greater offense. Given all that I don't know how anybody could stand behind execution. Look in Dallas County, the most recent Pettigrew case. The guy is innocent, Craig Watkins office goes on record saying they are dropping the charges because they are interested in "truth". But just days before offered the guy a plea deal of 2 years for murder of a cop in 1983!! That plea offer was not about truth, it was about covering up political campaign rhetoric....how the DA's office had solved this old crime..JUST before the election. What is going on in this system has more to do with gaming than truth. Its more about numbers and conviction rates than people and truth. How can anybody talk execution?

Soronel Haetir said...

Audry,

I do have problems with inconsistent sentences. I do not, however, see unwarranted leniency to one offender to be any reason to compound the error with the next. The solution is to cease granting such unwarrentedly lenient sentences.

I would also say that I do think it should be harder to get a conviction, however that is the matter of proof not punishment. I don't see that the two are particularly related

Audrey said...

While some convictions are about proof...many have more to do with drama expertise. In my own case I kept screaming for FBI involvement and forensics and was cut off at every turn. Because of this I don't find conviction and punishment as mutually exclusive. I am far from alone in this experience. Sadly, these examples are all over the web....and many are far more serious than my own as many of these wrongful conviction are death row cases.

Woodsy said...

Solonel, here is something to consider... If you expanded the death penalty to all felonies, imagine how much more violent those felonies might become. The offenders would have to make sure they killed all witnesses,as their own lives would be on the line if they were caught. Moreover, psychologically-speaking, when you reduce the significance of life across the board, the societal impact would be great. This is what has happened in, say, the streets of Afghanistan, where bombs and death are literally a daily occurrence. If we implemented the policies that you advocate, the streets would become war zones. And you and/or your family might be caught up in it.

sunray's wench said...

Soronel - your disregard for your family members certainly shows that you have given up on them. Thankfully, many family do not give up on their relatives who are sent to prison - that doesn't mean we condone what they have done, it just means that most inmates are not out to physically hurt other people, as you seem to be.

Soronel Haetir said...

Woodsy,

I expect there would be a period of increased criminality.

I don't think I've ever claimed that my desired policies would maximize happiness (or even increase it, honestly). Indeed, I suspect that the description of life in Hobbes state of nature ("nasty, brutish and short") is pretty close to the mark. I simply consider near anarchic freedom to be worth such a cost.

Sunray,

More to the point, I've given up on those family members who have not given up on the felons I mentioned.

Thankfully, not being a christian, I have no one telling me my future depends on forgiving anyone.