Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mass incarceration: 'It makes sense if you don't think about it'

I ran across this web tool from the National Institute of Corrections giving topline apples to apples corrections data by state for a variety of key indicators. According to NIC, here are Texas' various rankings among states by:
  • Incarceration rate: 2nd highest behind Louisiana and 35% higher than the national average.
  • Per capita number of probationers: 7th most, and 28% higher than the national average
  • Per capita number of parolees: 5th most, and 48% higher than the national average.
  • Spending per state inmate incarcerated: 5th lowest, or 43% lower than the national average.
  • Per capita crime rate: 8th highest, and 25% higher than the national average.
According to these data, Texas still has the second highest incarceration rate among states per capita (or we did as of 2009), but it should be mentioned we were first before half of New Orleans moved to Texas after Hurricane Katrina, reducing the Bayou State's denominator in that calculation.

So Texas has a disproportionate number of people in prison, on probation and on parole, and we spend virtually nothing on programming compared to most other states, particularly the large ones with comparable urban crime problems. And that's before recent cuts to vocational ed classes and reentry programming. Nearly half of those revoked to prison from our over-sized probation population are pinched for technical violations instead of new crimes. But has Texas' tuff-on-crime approach achieved the desired results? Not if crime in Texas is 25% higher than the national average!

Let's compare those topline numbers and results with another large state from another region, New York. Here are the comparable data for the Empire State:
  • Incarceration rate: 14th loweset, 27% lower than the national average.
  • Per capita number of probationers: 9th lowest, 57% lower than the national average
  • Per capita number of parolees: 9th highest, 13% higher than the national average
  • Spending per state inmate incarcerated: 5th, 35% higher than the national average.
  • Per capita crime rate: 7th lowest, 30% below the national average.
It's like a mirror image. New York's incarceration rate is less than half of ours, they supervise fewer probationers (by far), and while inmates are incarcerated they spend much more per inmate to achieve, in the end, a dramatically lower crime rate compared to us. According to this data, in 2008 Texas reported 4,861 crimes per 100,000 people, compared to 2,553 in New York. That means Texas' crime rate per capita was an astonishing 90% higher than New York's ([4,861-2,553]/2,553). Put another way, Texas law enforcement reported nearly twice the number of "index crimes" per capita as New Yorkers in 2008. That's a pretty amazing difference, particularly since Texas' crime rates have been declining for more than a decade, though tagging along behind more robust national reductions led by New York.

Chairmen Jerry Madden and John Whitmire have deservedly received a lot of credit for baby steps the state has taken to inch back away from the mass-incarceration abyss (particularly when the bipartisan consensus of the day would otherwise have been to dive off the edge like lemmings). And it should be said that the above comparisons represent a snapshot taken at the beginning of Texas' recent reforms, the data aren't yet reflective of them. But these numbers remind us that, despite all the recent laudatory essays in Texas' honor for the 2007 probation reforms, we were starting from quite a dark place. Just as Necessity is the Mother of Invention, those efforts weren't born of altruistic motives but were necessitated by the raw, harsh mathematics of mass incarceration and budgeting, just as is happening today. There's still a long way to go to rationalize the system.

New York's example shows crime rate reductions can be achieved by focusing scarce criminal-justice resources on a smaller number of high-risk offenders instead of roping everyone possible into the criminal justice system using the widest net possible, which has pretty much been the Texan approach most of my adult lifetime. Worse outcomes for greater expense. It reminds me of the TV commercial where a drab character representing AT&T tries to justify higher rates for slower service: "It makes sense if you don't think about it."


Audrey said...

Great post, very sad facts. I wonder what it will take for taxpayers of Texas to take a stand on this craziness. We may not have a state income tax but Texans are paying for this through their other taxes....and do have a say in this.

Anonymous said...

I wonder what percentage of the prison population is made up of illegals. I am sure those numbers play a significant part in the overall picture.

Prison Doc said...

I don't know what the percentage of illegals is--I'm sure Grits has it--but I really don't understand why they don't just move to deport them instead of having them serve a sentence first.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

1:55, FWIW, actually it's a relatively small number compared to their proportion of the population. Immigrants, especially those here illegally, tend to commit crimes at far lower rates than citizens.

Prison Doc, the answer is that that wouldn't satisfy the punishment fetish. Instead, we parole them after they've served their sentence (which I suppose is justified as a deterrent to thinking they'll get a freebie felony). That said, there is a bill (discussed here) that would expedite parole for illegal immigrants. If you paroled and had deported every eligible foreign national, according to testimony in committee, it would reduce the total inmate population by 3,500 - a drop in the bucket compared to nearly 160,000 people in prison. And of course they're not doing 3g or sex offenses, so just 2,000 will actually be paroled. Just not too many in the scheme of things.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we don't just deport them because they would be back by sun down. It has nothing to do with a punishment fetish, give me a break!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"we don't just deport them because they would be back by sun down"

I'm always puzzled by such statements. Those who reflexively (usually anonymously) crow for mass deportations don't actually think the tactic is effective. Very strange to watch someone take both sides of an argument in such an un-self conscious fashion.

Anonymous said...

I was simply responding to

"but I really don't understand why they don't just move to deport them instead of having them serve a sentence first."

Grits, surely you are not suggesting that an illegal that commits a crime should be deported without facing a consequence? I am all for the deportation..... after they are released from prison.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

2:54, I never said otherwise. You've taken both sides of this argument, which incidentally is unrelated to the topic of the post. I'm just observing.

Hook Em Horns said...

GRITS SAID "So Texas has a disproportionate number of people in prison, on probation and on parole, and we spend virtually nothing on programming compared to most other states, particularly the large ones with comparable urban crime problems."

I do not understand why folks have such a hard time understanding this. You can dissect the details until you go crazy but the principle is simple. Texas IS a prison state, in fact, we are prison CRAZED. From our obsession with them from a full-fledged museum at Huntsville featuring "THE ELECTRIC CHAIR" to our 112 prisons, many of them pole barns, to our insistence on antiquated "hoe squads" we are not interested in keeping people OUT of prison...nope...we want to keep them FULL!

We have more felonies than any state on the nation and the prison statistics quoted in this article speak for themselves. We aren't interested in slowing incarceration, no sir, we need MORE people dressed out in white to fulfill our legendary status as being the toughest on crime.

Hello? Is anyone listening?????

Anonymous said...

Never pass up a chance to promote illegal immigration.

sunray's wench said...

Horns is right, but the other thing that seems to obsess Texas is this concept of "illegal immigration". So much so, that everyone who doesn't "look" Texan, must be an "illegal". Funny really considering that Texas used to belong to Mexico and was taken by force, but let's not let historical fact cloud anyone's judgement. Fact is, you can't deport someone when they are already in their home nation.

What might interest these "send 'em home" folks is the numbers of inmates from other US states that are incarcerated in TDCJ. Perhaps a more active "send 'em home" policy should be in action there? At the moment, you can't even get a automatic parole to your home state (or your family's location), let alone serve your time there.

These figures suggest something that I'm sure cannot be true (and you can take that with as much or as little sarcasm as you like): that Texans are either the stupidest, or the most dangerous and anti-social Americans there are.

The Homeless Cowboy said...

Excellent post Scott, thanks for digging into all that.

Im shutting up now.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

10:41, it's the other way around. This post had nothing to do with illegal immigration, but the xenophobes in the crowd can never pass up a chance to get on their hobby horse about it.

ckikerintulia said...

There are two schools of thought regarding methods that don't work. One school of thought is that the definition of stupidity isdoing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The other says if its not working you just need to work harder and faster at it. The criminal justice system in Texas--and nationwide to a lesser extent--seems to subscribe to the latter.

Anonymous said...

Grits said: Roping everyone possible into the criminal justice system using the widest net possible, which has pretty much been the Texan approach most of my adult lifetime.

This wasn't always the case. In fact, not until the Federal Crime Bill of 1994 was passed did we have such a zero-tolerance attitude and the mass arrests and incarcerations that accompany it.

Believe it or not, back in the 1970's, cops didn't search every vehicle they stopped for traffic infractions. Nor did they make arrests for small amounts of marijuana, borderline DWI's, and the multitude of other minor crimes that make up the majority of arrests.

Indeed, this may come as an absolute shock, but many cops back then were honest and upstanding. We considered them as friends and treated them with kindness and respect. But after that crime bill was signed into law it seemed to have changed the mindset of law enforcement dramatically.

Statistics. That's what did it.

Under the Federal Crime Bill of 1994, billions of dollars are doled out to police agencies that meet certain criteria. And the criteria used is based mostly on the number of arrests. The more arrests an agency has, the more grants they get for new vehicles, cool gadgets, and deadly weaponry. And, get this, more money to hire new cops, and overtime for the existing officers.

Since 1995 the number of cops in this country has increased exponentially, a virtual explosion in the number of cops on the streets. Thus the increase in arrests, convictions, and ultimately probationers, incarcerations, and parolees.

We are literally being policed to death.

john said...

Red-light cameras outside the law raking in 10's of millions in revenues. Judges utilizing evolved policy expedient for the court in lieu of the written laws in favour of citizens.
Sure, we're awash in illegals, but here we have a mindset, systemic microcosm of the federal amok encroaching gov: No one in power wants any less power; they're hungry & they need to be fed. They'll eat you or if you get some help, they'll eat their own. We go along either because we also get paid somehow, or we're just afraid. Do we hallucinate, if we play along, we'll be rewarded? Go ahead, try and contact "your" "representative." You'll be lucky if you even get a form letter on something. (I found that true even inside the last election cycle. These guys stay mostly out to lunch. Like the Congress, they rely on us remaining distracted and unorganized.)

john said...

Oh heck, I forgot to mention on the radio I'd heard a third of the State budget goes to insurance, including gov employees, PRISON INMATES, illegal freebie care, etc. So there's another reason not to lock up every pot head? Ha, if only non-jailable Class C misdemeanors would stop putting people in jail, as if there was a magistrate a-comin.' But Texas has this mindset.... or is it just a money set? Hey, and try not to post a cash appeals bond, though one is not required. And when you get it back, it's always a few fees short.

Anonymous said...

There was a time when I was a little kid in the 1970's you look up to law enforcement and police offers were your friend; however I hope now not to have any interaction with them. I just do not trust them anymore.
Some people I was visiting yesterday told me this story again this week.

Hey Grits I need a little help here. What happened to the Federal Youthful offender act. I was told yesterday that after the summer semister there will be no more college classes offered at a TDCJ unit. Is this just this unit or TDCJ as a whole? I ask because I thought the Federal youthful offender act was not costing Texas anything. I am not going to say what unit but I bet you can guess it. Any help would be appreciated.

Ahma Daeus said...

The mere presence of a private “for profit” driven prison business in our country undermines the U.S Constitution and subsequently the credibility of the American criminal justice system. In fact, until all private prisons in America have been abolished and outlawed, “the promise” of fairness and justice at every level of this country’s judicial system will remain unattainable. We must restore the principles and the vacant promise of our judicial system. Our government cannot continue to "job-out" its obligation and neglect its duty to the individuals confined in the correctional and rehabilitation facilities throughout this nation, nor can it ignore the will of the people that it was designed to serve and protect. Please support the National Public Service Council to Abolish Private Prisons (NPSCTAPP) with a show of solidarity by signing "The Single Voice Petition"

Please visit our website for further information:

–Ahma Daeus
"Practicing Humanity Without A License"…

ExpectingToBeLaidOff said...

I thought that Texas was reimbursed by the Federal Government more than it spends to keep illegal aliens in prison. That makes it a money making proposition to keep them until their sentences run out.

waitongod said...

If the legislators would listen to reason instead of listening to the mob crowd and hysterical media that scream for "revenge" and punishment on people, then we probably wouldn't have so many incarcerations or so many dumb and useless "tough on crime" laws.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

12:02, that's just county jails, not state prisons.

Anonymous said...

Roping everyone possible into the criminal justice system using the widest net possible. That's the "tuff on crime" Texas way.