And here's a graphic describing two key reasons Texas' prison population has leveled off: Reduced probation and parole revocations.
Grits could offer a litany of other explanations, but those are biggies. See this admiring article about Texas' prison diversion reforms that led to these declines. There are only a handful of states that could look at Texas' incarceration rates and say "Wow, I wish we were that low." According to the Times-Picayune's data, Texas' incarceration rate (prisoners per 100,000 population) currently ranks fourth nationally, tied with Alabama behind Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma. Call it the Incarceration Belt.
Another story in the series describes with admiration Harris County's brief dalliance with Bayou State lockups and how Harris ended it's use of Louisiana contract beds through de-incarceration reforms. The private prisons and their Louisiana county partners loved the set up, though it was costing Harris County a small fortune:
"We didn't have any problems," said LaSalle Warden Jeff Windham, a former chief deputy of the LaSalle Parish Sheriff's Office. "Everything went fine."The reporters rightly give most of the credit where it's due:
Until the end of last year, when it all abruptly ended. The relationship didn't end because of anything LaSalle did wrong. It ended because of something Harris County did right.
The jail population in Harris County had dropped 31 percent in three years, and Sheriff Adrian Garcia, elected in 2008, announced he wouldn't be sending prisoners to Louisiana anymore, not to Olla and not to its other partner, an even further-flung private prison, the West Carroll Detention Center some seven hours from Houston in Epps.
Between them, Olla and Epps -- the latter one of a half-dozen detention centers run by the Emerald Prison Enterprises, another Louisiana-based outfit with facilities in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico as well as Louisiana -- had held as many as 1,200 of their inmates at a time, according to Harris County. But by the end of 2011, the average daily population of the Harris County Jail, which had once climbed above 12,000, had fallen below its capacity of 9,434 to 8,573 inmates.
For Olla and Epps, the breakup was tough. "We'll recoup, but it hit us pretty hard when they left," Windham said.
But for Harris County, the outcome confirmed that innovative efforts to reduce its population and curb recidivism were paying off. "It's been more successful than we anticipated," Garcia said. And it showed what can happen when a jail's bottom line is to reduce occupancy, not maintain it.
The biggest single factor in the drop in the Harris County Jail population was a decision not by Garcia, a Democrat, but by District Attorney Pay Lykos, a Republican, who also was elected in 2008.See also an interview with Dallas drug-court Judge John Creuzot accompanying the series.
Beginning in January 2010, the Harris County district attorney's office stopped bringing felony charges against those arrested with crack pipes or other drug paraphernalia that contained trace amounts -- less than one-hundredth of a gram -- of drug residue, not even enough to allow the defense to do its own independent testing. That alone meant that on any given day, there were 400 fewer inmates in the jail.
Meanwhile, with roughly a quarter of the jail population exhibiting some kind of mental-health problem requiring psychotropic medication, the county created a crisis-intervention team to respond to police calls when mental illness seemed a likely part of the mix and treatment might be more appropriate than jail.
Garcia doubled the number of chaplains in the jail from 100 to 200, mostly volunteers, and instituted a new earned early-release program for nonviolent offenders actively participating in an educational or vocational program.