the state's prison population fell by more than 2,200 inmates, or 1.3 percent, between 2013 and 2014, according to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. The decline was slightly larger than the national drop of one percent.
When 2014 ended, 166,043 prisoners were in TDCJ custody, the lowest number since 2002. It was the state's fourth largest annual decline in more than 35 years. (The largest drop came in 2012, when the population fell by nearly 6,000 prisoners from 2011.)
The small downward shift continues a trend that began in 2010, when the number of men and women held in Texas prisons peaked at 173,649.Those numbers differ from those in TDCJ Annual Statistical Reports (available here). Here are the annual TDCJ "on hand" population totals as of Aug. 31 from '08-'14:
2008: 156,126Comparing these data to the chart in this post, one sees that the parole board reacted to the state's highest prison population of all time in 2011 by boosting the total number of prisoners released in 2012 by a whopping 9%. That was the year the Trib said witnessed the "largest annual decline in more than 35 years," according to federal data.
Bottom line: According to TDCJ, 2014's prisoner number was a .3% reduction from 2013 and about a 4% drop from the 2011 high. The feds say Texas recorded a 1.3% drop last year, and a 4.4% drop from our peak, which they place a year earlier than TDCJ does. Either way you look at it, these reductions remain on the low side, in the nanoreform range.
Grits has parsed the differences between TDCJ and DOJ numbers in detail in the past, for those interested. Bottom line, TDCJ is counting the number of prisoners "on hand" while the federal number counts prisoners based on their legal status at the time of custody, not whether they've formally entered the prison system or not. So, for example, a prisoner convicted in district court and sentenced to TDCJ may sit in the county jail for three or four weeks awaiting transfer. Texas counts her as a county jail inmate; the feds would consider her a state prisoner. These are differences in definitions. Neither is right nor wrong, they just count different things, as though one were measuring an object in yards and also in meters.
If Grits were a betting man, in the near term I'd expect a continued, modest decline, particularly among the state jail felony population, in part due to the adjustment for inflation of property crime thresholds and the creation of diligent participation credits for state jail inmates (see here and here), and in part because crime remains at historic lows. It's possible Texas could even close another unit or two.
Going much beyond that, however, will require additional legislation reforms and further state investments in treatment, supervision, and mental health services. Whether that will happen is anyone's guess. All one can say for sure is that it can't happen before 2017.