California has significantly reduced its prison population, though not to the full extent required by a federal court order. The Golden State reduced its inmate population by 15,035, or around 10%, between 2011 and 2012, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics ("Prisoners in 2012 - Advance Counts"). Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed spending several hundred million dollars per year for private-prison space while the Legislature wants to fund diversion programs. Reported the LA Times, "Brown's effort to comply with the court order has short-circuited some of his previous plans to lower prison spending and end contracts to house inmates out of state. If the Legislature approves his proposal, prison spending will outpace state funding for higher education in the current fiscal year." Whichever side prevails, California has already reduced its prison population until it's lower than Texas, remarkably, even though the Lone Star State has less than 70% of California's population.
Texas' incarceration levels finally appear to have plateaued. Crime rates have for the most part continued their two decade plunge while the overall population boomed. That expanding denominator partly explains why one in 27 Texans were under supervision of the justice system in 2012 compared to one in 22 in 2008. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Texas had the second largest decline in the number of prisoners from 2011 to 2012 after California, down 5,852 inmates from the year before. This drop allowed Texas to close three prison units - one nearly a century old that was a hub from the old convict leasing days and two private units from the Ann-Richards/George Bush-era expansions. No court order required. Grits continues to believe that just a handful of minor policy tweaks would allow the state to close another 5-6 units next session without harming public safety in the least, given current crime rates and imprisonment trends. Looking past California and Texas, among states reducing prisoner populations, those two large states were:
followed by North Carolina (down 2,304). Colorado, Arkansas, New York, Florida, Virginia, and Maryland also reported at least 1,000 fewer inmates during the same period.Still, there is an enormous qualitative and quantitative difference between Texas and these smaller states that must be fully acknowledged. It only really makes sense to compare Texas to other large states where people actually live. Even by that standard, though. Texas' incarceration levels are still completely over the top. We're just being congratulated for not getting worse anymore! When you hear people say the United States has 5% of the world's population but 25% of its prisoners, Texas is still driving that train. Sure, other, smaller states like Louisiana or Georgia may have higher incarceration rates per capita, but Texas' massive size makes its similarly draconian rates a major driver of the national data.
Louisiana (up 1,538 prisoners or 3.9%) and the federal prison system (up 1,453 prisoners or 0.7%) reported an increase of at least 1,000 inmates. The prison population in Mississippi, Michigan, and Kentucky each increased by more than 500 inmates in 2012.
For a more accurate understanding of where Texas stands in terms of incarceration levels compared to other large states:, see this chart compiled from Bureau of Justice Statistics "Prisoners in 2012" (pdf) and Census data:
|State Pop (2012)||26,059,203||38,041,430||19,317,568||19,570,261|
|Prison Pop (2012)||166,372||134,534||101,930||54,210|
|Ratio: State prisoners per 100,000 population||638.4||353.7||527.7||277.0|
Which brings us back to the question in the title: Texas' reforms occurred at a time (2003-7) when the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) projected the state would need 168,166 prison beds by 2012. Back then, the state's max capacity including private contracts was perhaps 157K. Now, though, instead of far surpassing that, Texas is around 6,000 or so inmates below its max-ever capacity and as of last weekend has closed three large prison units. Texas prisons and state jails house nearly 20,000 fewer prisoners than LBB at one point projected would be the case.*
* At the moment, I can't fully explain the differences between the numbers TDCJ self reports publicly, which is what LBB (not to mention your correspondent) uses, and the higher totals reported in this Bureau of Justice Statistics report. According to BJS, the federal number includes probationers and parolees sent to short-term facilities instead of being revoked to prison or state jail as well as blue-warrant prisoners waiting in county jails for transfer to TDCJ - typically 6-7% or so of local jail populations. Those two factors could explain the difference. Will try to learn more. UPDATE: See a post answering these questions here.