Thursday, January 12, 2006

Why prison for many non-violent crimes makes Texas less safe

Kevin at BlogHouston notes that the state can't keep track of all its parolees, whose system of supervision is nearly as overloaded and broken down as Texas' probation system. More than 3,200 parolees in Harris County have absconded, according to the report -- 494 of them violent criminals. Kevin quotes a representative from the Houston mayor's crime victims office complaining about a parolee named Charles Anderson with a "rap sheet a mile long" who absconded in October and was arrested again last week for abduction and rape.

But in this "tough on crime" state, why would such a person have been paroled in the first place? Because Texas prisons are full, and we have to have someplace to put the thousands of nonviolent offenders sent to prison each year -- often with sentences that will last decades. So the state has to let people like Charles Anderson out to make room, or spend billions on new prison beds over the next few years. Similarly, the parole system can't chase down violent absconders because it's overwhelmed hunting five times the number of nonviolent ones.

That leaves the state of Texas with three choices: 1) process more nonviolent offenders through probation and community-based sanctions instead of prison, 2) build more prisons at a cost of several billion dollars instead of spending the money on schools and roads, or 3) keep releasing dangerous offenders to make room for new non-violent ones, which is what's happening now.

I don't see another way. Governor Perry must, though, because he's said he
doesn't want to build new prisons but then vetoed the best option in 2005 for relieving the influx of nonviolent and low-risk inmates, even as Texas prisons are overflowing. That means Governor Perry has, de facto, for now, chosen the third path.

From the time Texas revolted against Mexico in 1836 until Ronald Reagan became president, the number of Texas prison beds grew from zero to a little less than 30,000. In the next 25 years, that number increased five-fold to more than 150,000, and the majority of new inmates were non-violent offenders. Even that rate of increase, though, can't keep up with new prison entries stemming from the Legislature's penchant for passing so-called penalty "
enhancements" that don't take into account financial costs. We are at a crisis point -- the status quo is untenable.

The best way out of this imbroglio would be to follow the advice of one of my past campaign clients, former House Corrections Committee Chairman Ray Allen (R-Grand Prairie - he's sadly retiring from the Lege this year), who is fond of saying Texas should imprison only people "who we're afraid of, not those we're only mad at." If Charles Anderson is guilty of the crime he's accused of, then his situation makes that point well -- there are dangerous criminals in the world who merit supervision by the state, but wasting limited supervision resources on non-dangerous offenders diverts from our real public safety priorities, and makes us all less safe.


Anonymous said...

This is a great post. People need to think about the real world ramifications of putting everyone who looks at your funny in jail.

j said...

The problem is (in my opinion) that the world is full of hipocrites. They don't think that "it could happen to them or the people they love". They think addiction is for weak or bad people(not so).They don't realize their kids go to school 15 minutes early everyday b/c they're planning on meeting up with their best-friends in the school parking lot to take part in the joint someone always has to smoke (and share with their closest peers) before first period. They don't realize that their kids and their husbands are lying when they promise that they aren't using anymore because they want to believe it. Wake up America. Most people do develope an addiction to something in their lifetime. Yeah, it may just be to food, or work, coffee, or Camel Lights.......Wait, so smoking isn't a big deal and cigarrets aren't drugs &...Yeah! They are. So, I wonder what would happen if suddenly next week Congress passed a law forbidding people to smoke? Don't think smokers all over the U.S. wouldn't be doing desperate and illegal things to get their next smoke? Just one more pack of anything with tobacco in it-no matter what quality. Think about it. If you smoke but never have used drugs (illegal one's that is) you don't think people would be doing the same thing meth addicts, crack addicts, etc., are doing to get their next pack of smokes? Think about it. Dani

Anonymous said...

Danika's example may have more potential as becoming the next latest prohibition than anyone thinks.

Given the rise of - and apparent success of - anti-smoking groups in getting measure after measure passed in local and State legslatures, the potential of tobacco prohibition is beconing more likely. And what's interesting about this is that the possibility of this happening was predicted at least 10 years ago: The History of the Non-Medical Use of Drugs in the United States
by Charles Whitebread, Professor of Law, USC Law School - A Speech to the California Judges Association 1995 annual conference

Scroll down to the very last section Conclusion - The Issue of Prohibiton to read the prediction. And remember that, with drug prohibition, the targets are always, as the author puts it, "Them". "Those" Blacks, "those" Hispanics, "those" Chinese, "those" white-trash. Next, it will be "those" nicotine addicts.

Those who have had their recreational drug usage 'protected' by social conventions will find themselves stripped of that 'protection' and increasingly subject to social are tobacco smokers today. They are finding themselves in the same position many cannabists were in just prior to cannabis being made illegal. The question is will those so targeted realize the ultimate direction of their fate and take action? Or will cannabists soon have company in the prohibition stewpot?

Anonymous said...

My son died this past week, after decades long usage of drugs. He was in prison three times. The cost, if the estimators are right, was $26,000 per year. He was not a violent person, just an addicted person.

There are cures now available for virtually most drug addicts. The cost for a detox problem is $5,000 to $6,000, one time. Cure rate could easily be 70% to 80%. Those people that really want to see a solution to the drug problem, and thus thek prison problem, should "Google" buprenorphine, naltrexone, etc. and see what is now available. Of course, the conservatives/Republicans don't want to see a sensible/sand/low cost solution to most of the drug problem.


Anonymous said...

what we need to do is actually carry out the death sentence more often and lower the criteria for the decision on the death sentence. The prison system would work if the conditions weren't so accommodating. Why are we treating detriments to society to free meals and housing. We as a country need to be more strict in our prisons so wrongdoers and trouble makers would be swayed from committing crimes based solely on the fear of prison. In addition the only reason that people who are convicted rapists are allowed to walk the streets is because society is to scared to actually punish these individuals. Would you want somebody to come and rape/kill your young son/daughter because the government granted him life in prison. I implore everyone who reads this, what is the key word in that sentence...LIFE, they are kept healthy and educated, living almost full lives, at the price of innocent lives, and hard earned tax dollars.

Anonymous said...

To execute someone ends up costing more tax payer dollars than to leave them in prisons... Because of all the appeals and court processes, as sad as that is.