Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Texas crime stats show bigger isn't always better in corrections policy

Sometimes more is less: Like when incarcerating more people makes us less safe.

According to the National Institute of Corrections, Texas has the nation's largest corrections population, by far, but also among the highest per capita crime rates among states (6th highest, according to the NIC). That's just what we were shooting for, right?

See more at this interesting page of Texas statistics (2004) from the National Institute of Corrections. Some highlights:
The crime rate for the state of Texas is 23.41% higher than the national average. There are 738,000 adults under correctional supervision (prisons, jails, probation, and parole) in Texas and the correctional supervision rate (number of offenders supervised per 100,000) is 34.87% higher than the national average.
By comparison with another big state, check out New York's stats - crime rates half the national average, miniscule incarceration rates compared to Texas, and a much smaller population on probation.

It makes you wonder, is Texas' lock-em-up approach really making Texans safer? These stats say "no."

Go here for data from all 50 states.


Anonymous said...

I would hesitate to draw any conclusions about causation (in either direction) from these bare stats. The bare numbers on the NIC site are easily subject to whatever spin a reader wants to give them.

While the data for some states - like your examples of TX and NY - may suggest a direct correlation between crime rates and incarceration rates/correctional population, a quick look at my state (NC) shows the inverse: our correctional population and incarceration rates are well below the national average, our expenditures/costs for each inmate are -above- the national average, and yet our crime rate exceeds the average by 15%.

The folks who argue for increased incarceration could easily argue for increased incarceration and supervision of offenders in order to drag our crime rate back down 'toward the middle' (if not below it).

If you want to talk about the effect on crime rates overall, I think it's far more important to look at what you do with prisoners and probationers while you have them than just the raw numbers of how many you process through the system.

(One final note: I also note an error on the site, which leads me to question the content of the stats: the page for NC says that our Department of Correction operates "81 adult and juvenile facilities." The DOC does not handle juvenile offenders in NC; that's the province of our Dept of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, which maintains a self-contained correctional system apart from the DOC.)

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Just to say so, I do spend quite a bit of time on this blog on the subject of "what you do with prisoners and probationers while you have them." The short answer, for Texas, is hardly anything. .

I also think it's fair to draw comparisons among similar states. Perhaps NC is too different from TX and NY (due to issues of scale and relative urbanity) for comparison, but to me those are dramatic differences between TX and NY, or even CA, whose incarceration and crime rates are both just below the national average.

I try on this blog to examine both the forest and the trees. To that end, I think it's fair to look at different states' approaches and outcomes in the big picture, as well as in microcosm, always with an eye toward identifying what we could be doing better. Taken with the other 1,500 or so posts on Grits, I hope this item does to that, but it's meant less as a conclusion drawn than information to contribute to an ongoing conversation. Regards,

Anonymous said...

Proposed new Texas criminal justice motto:

"Mine's bigger than yours, but it doesn't work right."

Anonymous said...

How is NY comparable to TX? NY has over half its population contained in one jurisdiction (NYC), while Texas is a decentralized population with a crazy quilt of overlapping, decentralized governments. And that doesn't even delve into the whole north/south heritage differences between the two states.

Apples and oranges if there ever were any. To quote the Texas salsa commercial:

"New York City? Get a rope!"

Florida or maybe even California might be a better comparison for future purposes.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"How is NY comparable to TX?"

TX, CA and NY are the three largest states and all are extremely urban - DFW and Houston combined compare to NYC's urban dominance of NY's crime stats, e.g., with sprawling suburbs, quite a few mid-sized towns, and elsewhere sparsely populated rural ares. That's just not NC's profile. We don't compare favorably to CA, either, btw. FL's stats follow Texas' patterns of high incarceration/high crime rate, just not quite as bad. Louisiana, too.

Also, despite overlapping jurisdictions for police, the laws under which folks are prosecuted in TX are uniform statewide, just like in other states.

Comparing any two states is apples and oranges. But comparing the largest states to one another is more meaningful, to me, than comparing Texas to much smaller states without major urban centers. And again, it's just one piece of the puzzle, in any event. Best,

Anonymous said...

Maybe you can't draw positive "conclusions about causation", but I think you can draw a negative one: High incarceration rates appear to have empirically little to do with low crime rates, and often are associated with higher crime rates to judge by Texas' and Louisiana's numbers. People say they want to get crooks "off the streets," but these stats say locking more people up doesn't necessarily reduce crime.

New York and even CA are doing something right, IMO, to have crime and incarceration numbers that much lower than Texas.

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