Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Parole: The "quick solution" to Texas overincarceration?

Texas Senate Criminal Justice Chairman John Whitmire offered up a poignant observation about the state's supposed need for three new prison units to house the projected number of new prisoners ("A quick solution to prison overcrowding?, Austin Statesman, Dec. 4"):
"The more I see, the more I think we do not have a capacity issue. We have an operations issue," Whitmire said.
He's right. Texas prisons don't have an overcrowding problem. Texas' criminal justice system has an overincarceration problem. The state just isn't using its available tools to manage the system well.

Whitmire pointed to statistics Grits highlighted here from the Sunset Commission showing that the state parole board was LESS likely to follow its own release guidelines for nonviolent offenders in the lowest risk categories compared to more dangerous felons. Under current law and trends, Texas would require 11,000 new prison beds before the end of the decade, but wouldn't need to build any if the parole board simply followed its own guidelines.

For its part, the parole board points to the lack of drug and alcohol treatment in Texas prisons, especially for low-level offenders, and says it makes its decisions based on public safety.

Chairman Whitmire, though, suggested a more dastardly reason for keeping low-risk inmates in prison - they supply cheap, hassle free labor, especially thousands of trusties.

Whitmire said he is convinced that the large number of parole-ready trusties is a case of prison officials not wanting to lose valuable help. Outside trusties work as porters, help in offices and do field and community service labor. Inside minimum-security prisoners serve as cooks and janitors and do laundry and other chores.

"I'm convinced the reason we're not paroling more of these people is that they're the workers," he said. "If they're a low-enough risk that they are allowed outside without close supervision, why not parole them and put them on a monitoring bracelet, and open up that bed for someone else?"

That's an understandable pressure on the system, especially since Texas chronically can't hire enough prison guards to staff its facilities. After all, prisoners can't resign, but one in four Texas guards quits every year. Even so, understaffing doesn't justify incarcerating prisoners longer than necessary to preserve public safety.

Texas has one of the lowest rates of per-inmate spending in the country and the Sunset review process has revealed why. There is virtually no programming or effort at rehabilitation of prisoners, healthcare is dangerously underfunded, guard staffing levels hover at around 3,000 below minimum requirements, and inmate labor makes up the difference. So our per-inmate costs look cheaper, but it's a false comparison - we're getting less public safety bang for our buck.

Perhaps significantly, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a right-wing think tank in Austin, also recently pointed to parole as a potential solution for overincarceration - see Doc Berman's post about the report and its proposals to use "technocorrections" solutions like GPS tracking for low-level parolees. Look for Whitmire's Senate Criminal Justice Committee to consider some sort of parole legislation, possibly requiring the parole board simply to follow its guidelines, in addition to the probation reforms he and Rep. Jerry Madden are seeking.


Anonymous said...

While this is a step in the right direction, it does not address the real problem. That IMHO is our laws are biased and based on bigoted agendas. If we had laws that were just and unbiased our jails and prisons and legal system as a whole wouldn't be overloaded!

All this new idea does is keep feeding on those who believe they have the right to live in a free country as they see fit! While enabling those with power to continue with their bigoted and biased agendas, FACT!

Instead of finding ways to justify this and prolong this BS, why not find a way to END IT!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Well, Rusty, it just takes a few steps in the right direction, and all of a sudden you're marching. It's still better than a sharp stick in the eye, as my father likes to say. Somos en Tejas, after all.

Anonymous said...


Brother you are correct, and any change for the release of those wrongfully fed upon is a good thing! I just see the system failing to admit their failures, and found a way to keep forcing their personal bigoted and biased agendas and beliefs ON ALL! The only way you can beat a corrupt system is to overload it! They have found a way to prolong the collapses of this corrupt system!!!

If EVERYBODY in jail REFUSED any pleas and demanded their right to trial, this system would fold overnight!!! If our laws and courts were JUST and UNBIASED the system wouldn't be overloaded!! Until Individual Freedoms return and the rights of all Americans to live their lives as our founding Fathers intended, and many have died for, NOTHING WILL CHANGE!

They can find ways to prolong their UN-AMERICAN attempts to force others to live as they see fit with the denial of JUSTICE and FREEDOM, BUT NOTHING IS FOREVER!!!!

Anonymous said...

If the parole board would follow their own rules and grant parolees their "street-time" served prior to returning to prison for a "technical violation" of the parole terms, many parolees/offenders would solve TDCJ's over-crowed conditions, thus allowing parolees/offenders to begin to pick up their lives with their families and begin to become productive citizens.