Thursday, June 07, 2012

Prisoners released in 2009 cost Texas $620 million extra thanks to increased length of incarceration

Inmates' average total length of stay in Texas prisons has increased 32% since 1990, according to a new report (pdf) from the Pew Center on the States, compared to a 36% increase nationwide. (See a press release touting the national study and a Texas-specific fact sheet.) Texas prisoners' typical length of incarceration falls just below the national average at 2.8 years compared to 2.9. On average, a Texas prisoner released in 2009 served eight months longer than his or her counterpart released in 1990.

By contrast, noted the New York Times, "In Florida, the average time served rose by 166 percent; in New York, 2 percent." (Notably, New York's crime declines have led the nation, flying in the face of the notion that longer incarceration times are the cause of modern crime reduction.)

Grits finds this data fascinating. Texas sentence lengths (on paper) declined significantly over the 20-year period, while the proportion of sentences prisoners served rose by even more and actual time served increased. The bulk of the Texas increase occurred in the 1990s, when the proportion of sentences served for violent and nonviolent crimes in Texas increased 101% and 99%, respectively.

For violent offenders, those trends flattened out after 2000, with sentences and the proportion served staying about the same ever since. But sentencing for nonviolent offenders remained dynamic and began to reverse itself. From 2000 to 2009, the average sentence length for nonviolent offenders decreased 68% (for reasons which elude me), but offenders served a greater proportion of their allotted time, so the decline in incarceration length came to just 37% over that period for nonviolent offenders.

All told, Texas prisoners released in 2009 who'd been convicted of a violent crime stayed in prison 44% longer than those released in 1990, while drug and property offenders served 14% and 15% longer sentences, respectively. The study was able to calculate that, for Texas prisoners released in 2009, the 8 months extra average length of stay compared to 1990 cost taxpayers an extra $620.1 million.

The report closes out discussing strategies used in various states recently to reduce incarceration times:
  • Reclassifying offense types
  • Amending mandatory minimum sentencing laws
  • Using risk-based sentencing
  • Expanding earned-time opportunities
  • Changing parole policy and practices
  • Making administrative changes to parole
  • Enacting revocation caps


Anonymous said...

And here we've been led to believe that we've throwing the book at all of these non-violent, less than one gram concaine possessers. You mean to tell me that in Texas prisons, since 1990, we've actually been sentencing violent offenders to longer terms and making them serve a greater proportion of their sentences? What a concept! Maybe Texas prosecutors are actually using their plea recommendation discretion more effectively and doing a much better job than they've been given credit for!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

1:08, I have no clue what you're talking about, and suspect you don't either. Those who enter prison for "less than a gram" offenses are sentenced as state jail felons and sentences are two years flat, served day for day.

More to the point, please look at the Texas fact sheet linked in the post and in particular the nonviolent incarceration rates in the 90s, then their (less dramatic) reversal in the last decade. Those nonviolent incarceration trends from the '90s are exactly what all the reform efforts enacted since 2003 were aiming to reverse. I'm not sure on what basis you'd give prosecutors credit for it.

Anonymous said...

Why is it so many prosecutors have such disdain for the posts on this blog but feel so compelled to read it an comment. They seem to have a lot of free time on their hands.

Anonymous said...

I do have a clue and here's the point. For several years now, the "smart on crime" crowd has been critical of prosecutors and judges for the overly aggressive prosecution and punishment of property crime and drug offenders. We've been told that too many beds in TDCJ are occupied by people who, under "evidence based practices" should not have been there. The numbers in the fact sheet seem to suggest something different. After a brief increase in sentence length for these non-violent offenses near the turn of the century (which I would venture to guess resulted from the prison expansion boom in the 90's), sentence length for these offenders has declined back to nearly the levels that they were in the early 90's. At the same time, sentence length for violent offenders increased over the last two decades and has not really declined. To me, this suggests that prosecutors and judges have been effectively prioritizing which offenders to punish more harshly or to subject to more lengthy periods of incarceration. All the rhetoric from the last couple of legislative sessions about how too many non-violent offenders were being "locked up and the key thrown away," appears to have been incorrect. In fact, this data shows that our criminal justice system has been "smart on crime" all along. Prosecutors and judges have been given a bum rap, especially on this blog, and these numbers do show they deserve more credit.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"We've been told that too many beds in TDCJ are occupied by people who, under 'evidence based practices' should not have been there. The numbers in the fact sheet seem to suggest something different."

Since the total number of people in prison more than tripled since 1990 (far outstripping population increases), THAT speaks more to incarcerating people who "should not have been there" than does length of stay - you're conflating arguments you either can't rebut separately or don't understand.

1:49, I agree that's a curious contradiction, and for me a near-constant source of amusement.

Amanda said...

In the 1980's and early 1990's, inmates were being paroled out of TDCJ after doing a such a small fraction of the time they were sentenced to, often within months, even for violent offenses. I am glad to see the legislation regarding mandatory flat time for felons with guns actually being enforced by the courts and corrections systems and violent inmates being required to spend more time behind bars before paroling out. I believe such programs as therapeutic communities for substance abusers is also contributing to the increased amount of time inmates are staying in TDCJ, but the time is being spent in a positive way.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Amanda, they were paroling violent offenders more quickly in 1990 because of just the phenomenon that 1:51 claims never occurred: "too many beds in TDCJ [were] occupied by people who, under 'evidence based practices' should not have been there." Look at the data for nonviolent offenders' length of stay in the '90s (plus factor in their vastly expanded number): Keep more drug offenders locked up longer and the state won't have room for the violent.

Texas kicked the can down the road back then by tripling the size of the prison system, but now we're to the point once again where the prisons are full, and this time there's no money to build more. (Indeed, the state can't afford to run the ones it's got.) That leaves two options: Send fewer people to prison, particularly for nonviolent offenses, and/or parole people more quickly.

Anonymous said...

And I'm sure that increased prison population over the last 2 decades had NOTHING to do with the fact that the population of this state essentially TRIPLED in the last 2 decades including the introduction of a couple million illegal aliens. Nah, we surely didn't need to increase prison bed space for something like that.

Amanda, you are spot on. A significant part of the explanation for reduced crime rates in the last 20 years stems directly from the fact that Texas stopped the revolving door for violent offenders and allowed meaningful, lengthy sentences to be imposed on them.

Amanda said...

I increasingly have a problem with laws such as the Aggravated PCS/DCS statute, used by conservative judges to lock young kids away for 40+ years or even life for dealing drugs. I have just as big of a problem with drugs in our society as anyone else since I see the damage they do every day. But, I just have a hard time getting behind laws such as the Agg PCS/DCS when I see kids with virtually no criminal history getting thrown in TDCJ for such long sentences over it, and the next week I'll see guys with double-digit felonies on their records getting ten years on aggravated violent felonies. It's a hard pill to swallow, and it feels like the judges and legislators are focusing on the wrong problems. Often the young people getting these insanely long sentences are the ones who could truly benefit from probation and rehabilitation, but where is the money for that? Oh yeah, that's always the first thing to go.

Anonymous said...

What happen to the rehabilitation of these inmates, it went straight to Administrative Segration. It is inhuman to lock up a human being 24/7. This is creating a monster with more mental issues then rehabilitating. The Texas System continue to create more prisons with Ad Seg to cut cost but in the long run, as you can see by this article the cost is increasing. These inmates need long term rehabilitation to be able to adapt and be success to the free world. The Texas Prison System needs alot of changes and fast.

Anonymous said...

Grits says:
1:08, I have no clue what you're talking about, and suspect you don't either.
That is a good one!! That can be said for 98% of the populations because they have bought in to this foolishness about locking people up. The 3(g) or aggrevated depends on lots of things.
The prosecutor or Judge wants to be re-elected and wants to look tuff on crime. The "with weapon" will be added and makes it a violent act. Even if it is a car. The problem is, that it only works sometime. Example: Intoxicated manslaughter, can be upgraded to (3) and a person will serve 7 1/2 years on a 15 year plea, on the other hand a non-aggr, a person could server 4 years on a twenty year plea, while some of the lucky ones will even be allowed probation for the same offense. I keep hearing there are about 12k women who should have been given probation who are in TDCJ prisons. 98% of the people cannot see this is due to political agendas. I would assume if the counties were responsible to keep them locked up for 15 to 20 years two things would happen. One they would not be locked up and two, they would make parole a lot sooner. I assumeprosecutors read this blog to get thier lies straight.

Anonymous said...

I love how the criminal coddlers just ramble on about "rehabilitation" and how oppressive Texas prisons are, blah, blah, blah, as if there really aren't crimes committed in Texas and there are no real victims. Intoxication Manslaughter? Nah, it shouldn't be a crime to get drunk, drive a 2000 lb. vehicle down the road and kill some innocent person. That defendant just needs a little more compassion, love and understanding. Never mind the fact that the DEAD victim was probably loved by someone who geniunely grieved over their loss. If you've never had to wake parents up at 2:00 in the morning to tell them that their child has been killed by a drunk driver, then maybe the concept of rehabilitation sounds all perfectly well and good.

However, many people in this state still believe that there is one principal and overriding purpose of the Texas prison system: punishment. And that includes administrative segregation for people who can't behave in prison. I know the concept of individual accountabilty for one's actions is really difficult for you liberals to grasp. For most of us though, the lesson is one we learned in childhood: You do something bad or harm an innocent person, you get punished. It's really quite simple.

Anonymous said...

I was using intoxicated Manslaughter just as an example here: Let me try this again and see if you can understand this. A 25 year old man has sex with a 14 year old girl and gets probation, and compare this to a 30 year old woman that has sex with a 16 year old boy and gets 40 years. Yes both are a crime and yes they should be punished. I am not soft on crime but I am smart enough to understand what the word "FAIR " means and "Liberty and Justice for all means". Since all parties are guilty my point was in the earlier post, was, they all should recive the same punishment for the same crime. The 25 year old man was the son of a police officer and the woman was considered a no body by the DA's office. I wonder if you are a DA with so much time on your hands. Now one thing is what would a parent be doing allowing thier child to be out at 2am anyway. I have better sense than to go in a bad neighborhood and not think I would not be taking a chance on being robbed. It is called the wrong place at the wrong time. I hate people who drink and drive, but DWI'S and intoxicated manslaughter is crimes that are punished often times by being a somebody or a nobody. There is no standard for these crimes and that is one reason, and just one reason, don't want to be misquoted on here, people risk it. They think because they think they are a somebody nothing will happen and generally speaking in some places nothing will happen. I also know that unless it is an emergency, I would not dare get out on the roads after midnight to begin with. I also think twice and comprehend what is written before I jump on the band wagon too. The main point is the rich goes home and the poor goes to prison in Texas.

Anonymous said...

They say it costs over a million dollars a day to keep prisoners past their parole dates in Texas and some have behaved themselves, which is hard for the tuff on crime crowd to believe. This is the Sunset Commmission by the way. How can the parole board be so corrupted and break the laws. No where does it say they have become judges and judge someone all over again. The law says parole them, so parole them. You can just look at the parole board members and tell they have no common sense.

sunray's wench said...

@ 9.48 "Example: Intoxicated manslaughter, can be upgraded to (3) and a person will serve 7 1/2 years on a 15 year plea, on the other hand a non-aggr, a person could server 4 years on a twenty year plea, while some of the lucky ones will even be allowed probation for the same offense."

But that's just it, parole is not automatic once an inmate becomes eligible, and in a growing number of cases, even when parole is approved it comes with strings attached that require the inmate to participate in some kind of token rehabilitation course for which the inmate has to wait around 2 years more before they can even start.

@ 10.14 ~ calling someone a "liberal" isn't an insult you know. It just makes you look childish. Some people actually believe that those who do wrong should be punished in a non-medieval way, because they know the wrong-doers will return to their community one day and would rather not have them there as mentally instable and full of hatred. There are enough mentally unstable, full of hatred people around already.