Texas' parole rate for convicted felons has reached new highs in recent months, with the approval rate topping 40 percent this spring after hovering in the high 20s for several years.Here's a accompanying graphic demonstrating the short-term rise, which could be just a demographic blip:
The parole rate for violent sex offenders reached nearly 60 percent in March.
Officials say the higher parole rate is partly due to larger numbers of felons imprisoned in the past 20 years who are now reaching the end of their sentences, some meted out during the three-strikes-and-you're-out era of tough-on-crime laws enacted during the 1990s.
Officials are putting more of these convicts on parole to keep them under supervision and in treatment after they get out of prison, rather than have them walk out unsupervised.
The new numbers, obtained Tuesday by the American-Statesman, showed Texas' overall parole approval rates are the highest since September 2001, topping 40 percent in both February and March. The approval rate for April was just under 39 percent, the statistics show.
Mike and I were notified of this story by the same source in an email last month, but he's added value to the subject by gathering more back-months of data and interviewing government officials and advocates who speculated on reasons for the recent rise (some of which was presaged in Grits' essay). It should be emphasized, though, that a few months increase doesn't necessarily indicate a long-term trend and there could be many reasons, some perfectly mundane, for the short-term spike.
The numbers, though, do give rise to cautious optimism. Two suggested reasons would likely improve public safety: The decision to release long-term inmates before their sentence is up so they'll be under supervision when they leave, and the Lege funding drug and alcohol treatment in prison, which in turn lets the parole board can condition release on completing it.
This must be welcome news to TDCJ bean counters fretting over budgets, who presently are straining to cover guard overtime and prisoner health costs under their reduced budget. Releasing older inmates serving long sentences, in particular, helps a ton with health care cots.
Texas' largest county jails have depopulated rapidly in the last couple of years. If this short-term parole trend elongates and the Lege continues to support front-end diversion programs, perhaps in the near future Texas will actually witness a smaller prison population as well.