- 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.
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.
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."