Thursday, January 25, 2007

Dewhurst wrong that "population growth" justifies prison building


Lt. Governor David Dewhurst says he thinks Texas needs to build more prisons because of "population growth." It sounds to me like he's been listening to Williamson County District Attorney John Bradley, who is the only person I've heard spouting such foolishness.

I would have thought it a little early for Gov. Dewhurst to make such pronouncements. His Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire and House Corrections Chair Jerry Madden haven't even revealed the details of their alternative yet (that's coming next week at a Jan. 30 hearing).

In the meantime, though, let's debunk this absurd notion right now that Texas needs more prison beds because of "population growth." The argument that prison building hasn't kept up with the population is only justified if you accept the most short-sighted possible analysis. Here's a quick comparison I compiled of Texas prison and population growth rates over the last century:

Year Prison Pop % Change Texas Pop (in millions) % Change
1900 4,109
1950 6,424 56.34% 7.8 155.74%
1972 15,709 144.54% 11.8 51.28%
1978 22,439 42.84% 13.5 14.41%
1985 37,621 67.66% 16.3 20.74%
1990 49,608 31.86% 17.0 4.29%
1994 92,669 86.80% 18.3 7.65%
1999 149,684 61.53% 20.0 9.29%
2004 151,059 0.92% 22.5 12.50%

Sources: Prison stats from Handbook of Texas and Texas Politics, except 1985 (letter) and 2004 (LBB report). TX population stats from the Texas State Library.

So yes, over the last five years or so Texas prison growth hasn't kept up with that of the entire population. But let's not kid ourselves: Texas would have PLENTY of prison capacity if population growth were the issue. Indeed, if Governor Perry hadn't vetoed SB 2193, which received broad bipartisan support in the Senate in 2005, Texas wouldn't be renting extra prison beds right now. (UPDATE: See this post summarizing table results.)

It's fine to have a debate about whether more prisons should be built, and it's certainly true that the Legislative Budget Board has projected that current policies would require more prison building. But let's not pretend current policies are Texas' only option. Besides, Texas can't find enough prison guards to staff current prisons. If we're 3,000 guards short now, how are we going to hire enough guards for three more maximum security units? Bottom line, we can't.

It's time for Lt. Gov. Dewhurst to undergo the same reality check that drove Chairmans Whitmire and Madden to seek new approaches. It's almost irresponsible to suggest that Texas build three new prisons. We're talking about big bucks here, not chump change. Dewhurst estimated three units might cost $50 to $75 million in annual debt charges, and the Sunset Advisory Commission said another $75 million per year would be required in staffing and operations costs.

Can you think of anything you'd rather the Lege do with $250 - $300 million per biennium?

Meanwhile, more than 400,000 people are supposedly being "supervised" by a broken-down nag of a probation system that Chairmans Whitmire and Madden want to strengthen. And thousands of parole-eligible non-violent offenders sit in prison after being refused parole in defiance of the parole board's own guidelines. (Sunset Commission testimony revealed that if the parole board followed its own release guidelines, there would be no Texas overincarceration crisis.)

Indeed, most people in Texas prisons are incarcerated for non-violent offenses. A few years ago the Justice Policy Institute calculated the memorable statistic that "Standing alone amongst the states, Texas' non-violent prison population represents the second largest incarcerated population in the country (after California), and is larger than the entire prisoner population (violent, and nonviolent) of the United Kingdom - a country of 60 million people - or New York, the nation's third largest state." (emphasis added)

That's nothing to be proud of. I'd encourage Gov. Dewhurst to embrace some of the reforms proposed in the past year by the Texas Public Policy Foundation and others who watch the system closely.

Big prisons are Big Government's crowning epitome. Texas tried the Big Government/Nanny State approach to crime for the last half-century, as the above chart indicates, yet our crime rate remains worse than states that incarcerate much smaller portions of their population. Why not try something besides throwing money at the same, failed approaches?

UPDATE: Kuff thinks the money would better be spent on enrolling more kids in CHIP. Vince says CHIP could use the cash.


Anonymous said...

That chart! Those statistics! You can sure see where the War on Drugs came into play.

Anonymous said...

October 19, 2005

What place is this?????
Today I left Judge Barbara Rollins' court where our son, Moishe Turner was certified to stand trial as an adult and was remanded to the Taylor County Adult Jail on S. 27th Street, one street over from the juvenile center on S. 26th Street.
Already horrified that our 15 year old son who had never been in any trouble before (no trials no adjudications) could be shipped to an adult jail for witnessing a murder and the only other witness I'm told, is a drug dealer woman who also witnessed the crime but was there with the man who was murdered. She admitted in her police statement that they went to the elementary school campus to sell drugs.
A few weeks after returning to Abilene, Moishe was approached by a young man who identified himself to us as a seventeen year old mall worker.
The young man was allowed into our home. I told him our son's age and cautioned him not to do anything to get our son in trouble. This has been my routine for years with even our now adult children.
This person was not who he said and began to give Moishe marijuana to smoke.
July 11, 2005, this young man gave Moishe small amount of marijuana, three cigars and a few bullets and told him to hold onto them till later. I believe that he was trying to get my son hooked on drugs. Moishe later told me that the young man had offered him a lot of other drugs but he only smoked a marijuana cigarette.
Around eight-thirty that night, the young man repeatedly called Moishe with me speaking to him the first time on the house phone.
I left the house being called back to work. In my absence Moishe succumbed to the repeated calls and walked across the street to meet Stewart, the person he called his friend. I have the phone record that backs this up.
When Moishe arrived at the school, he was surprised to see other persons there. He saw the woman who identified herself as Stewart's girlfriend, standing outside the truck smoking and several other people he didn't know. He noticed that his friend was talking then shouting with another man. He heard his friend say, " aw hell, Brian man!" then start shooting, with this Brian person returning the gunfire. Brian killed Stewart as Stewart and his girlfriend jumped in Stewart's truck to escape. Moishe hid behind the truck to escape gunfire. He took off running when he saw a chance not knowing what started all the shooting and the one who called him to come there, he'd just seen murdered.
Brian jumped in Stewart's truck and chased Moishe down but took time to allow Stewart's girlfriend to get her purse and dog out before he left. Moishe looked back as he ran, was relieved seeing her on her cell, thinking she was calling 911 for help.
Brian caught up with Moishe and threatened him. I suppose he saw Moishe was a kid and knew Moishe really didn't have anything to do with what went on between Stewart and him. When he was able to get away, Moishe ran, lost, asking strangers how to get to our apartment until a man gave him a ride home. Moishe only knew we lived by the mall, so with that information, the man brought Moishe near enough to home that Moishe directed him the rest of the way. Police, cars with lights were all around. Moishe thought he was safe knowing he had seen Stewart's girlfriend on her cell phone. He thought she was calling police. She never did. Moishe was arrested that night as he tried to come home. The police and Stewart's girlfriend, who was not arrested with her drugs and was covered in blood, began to create a version of events that fingerprint, DNA and other physical evidence scream, lies!
After our son was sent to the adult jail, I went to the court records and learned our son's DNA, fingerprints, etc., was nowhere in evidence so they wanted to put him in with grown men to terrorize him into confessing to something he did not do. The DA, Harriet Haag and Dan Joiner already knew evidence backs up what Moishe told them that night and completely refutes any other version. The girlfriend is a dope dealer and lying on a 15 year old kid. But she has blonde hair and blue eyes which seem to be the standard of proof in Taylor County.
I would like the FBI, ACLU, Judicial Review Board and President of this United States of America to come clean this mess.
As I fled my family and the nodding Judge Rollins, to see where they were taking Moishe, I saw 2 figures chained at the waist to trees with their hands cuffed behind them. I was numb with fear for what was about to happen to Moishe. Judge Rollins had issued 2, two hundred fifty thousand bonds for Moishe and no bond on a capital murder charge. And they already knew that they had no evidence linking him to a crime! She nodded all through court but I don't know how she can sleep nights judging children on rumor and courthouse gossip.
Taking my camera and shouting out to the figures in the field just outside the jail yard fence (persons being arrested looking to their right from a police car window would get this sight as their last free world visual) I took off walking, snapping and
calling out to the men. I touched the first one and shook him to wake him up. I looked up in the sky for buzzards and saw none. As I continued to investigate, I realized these were dummies dressed in regular clothes. I am a medical professional and they fooled me. The disguise was excellent with some gauze dressing wrapped over their faces. I knew then I am in racism HELL!!!!!!
I told everybody I saw to get over there and witness, photograph and turn it in to the Washington office of the FBI.
That was over two years ago, my son is still in jail with adults, no bond, no trial, no evidence and no constitution for an American born citizen. Oh.... I forgot to tell you our skin is brown.
I am simply, Deborah...his mom and friend

Anonymous said...

I invite Lt. Gov. Dewhurst to spend one month in a Texas Prison and then see how he feels about building more prisons. Legislators have no idea what goes on in TDCJ and there is no rehabilitation, no job training and just abuse and name calling and insults. How do you expect those who come out of these hell holes to become citizens when they are labeled a felon for the rest of their lives. Give them a chance, when they have served their time, whether is was justified or not, let them alone and let them vote and become a citizen who can gain employment without carrying this stigma along with them.

So, why you you try it Lt. Gov. Dewhurst, then maybe you won't be so biased in your thinking.