Tuesday, January 08, 2008

One million prisoners by mid-century? Can Texas sustain recent rates of incarceration growth?

If Texas sustains high rates of incarceration growth seen in recent years, where would it ultimately lead?

Looking at past growth rates, over the 26 years from 1978 to 2004, the number of adult Texas prisoners grew by 573% while the state's population grew by 67%. That means that for every percentage point increase in population, Texas expanded its prison population by an additional 8% over that period!

If Texas prisons sustain the same growth rate over the next 26 years, by 2030 Texas will incarcerate approximately 894,000 adults, compared to around 156,000 today, and fewer than 30,000 in 1978!

That's an insane thought - that Texas would be headed quickly toward one million prisoners by the middle of the century - but it's where we're going if Texas doesn't reverse course.

At least on paper. In reality, I seriously doubt that our current growth rate can be maintained.

Already, reality has reared its ugly head to impose limits on incarceration. Texas prisons today are around 4,000 guards short of minimum staffing, and the problem is only getting worse. Trustees routinely perform functions previously reserved for TDCJ employees. More state employees already work in corrections than any other area. Either significantly expanding their numbers or raising their pay high enough to attract more job applicants would raise the state's artificially low per-inmate cost by an enormous margin.

When the Legislative Budget Board tells the Legislature they need new prison space, or when the Texas Commission on Jail Standards tells county jails they need to expand, they're basically taking current incarceration growth rates and projecting forward to identify future needs. That makes perfect sense except for one thing: Texas' current rate of overincarceration already has proven unsustainable.

What's needed, but almost never done, is for agencies like LBB and TCJS to inform decision makers about policy choices that might reduce growth rates, instead of just tallying up the cost of accommodating past bad decisions. These days, no one in government performs that function any longer, and the task has been farmed out to private consultants.

Yet now that we're in election season, we hear reflexively "tuff" rhetoric from candidates that appears to have zero basis in reality. Who believes we can continue to expand prisons by 8% for every 1% increase in population? I don't understand how such a foolish position could be adopted with a straight face by anyone calling themselves a "fiscal conservative."

For years, Texas pols from both parties have been tuff as tuff can be on crime: Surely now it's time to get smart.


Anonymous said...

Ultimately, the logical conclusion of this incarceration rate is that ALL Texans will be inside a Texas prison.

Anonymous said...

Texans have never put much stock in being smart. Perhaps the call to action should use the word - sensible.

Sensible about crime could allow for prevention, rehabilitation and cost savings. It is even possible that Texans could be sensible enough about crime that the population would behave themselves and stop criminal behavior.

This will only happen when there are sensible criminal laws, prosecutions and sentence lengths.

Clearly something has to change between now and 2030!

Anonymous said...

How are you doing the projection? Using a linear growth rate of 4,200 per year I get 248,000 for the population in 2030. If you are assuming exponential growth that implies that the prisons are producing new prisoners (prisons cause crime).

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'm assuming that the growth rate over the next 26 years equals the growth rate in the past.

So, we know the growth rate was 573% over 26 years, with 1978's prison pop = X and and 2004's prison pope = 5.73X.

If we assume 2004's prison pop = X and 2030's prison pop = 5.73X, i.e., that the growth rate is the same over the same time period, you get to the figure cited.

Let me know if you think that's invalid and why.

Since I'm using growth rates from the past, I don't think I'm "assuming" that prisons produce new prisoners, more "observing" it.

Anonymous said...

I misread the date the linear growth rate is 4,850 per year and that gives 282,000 for 2030. I have no idea why you multiplied do you expect the population of Texas to increase at 7% rate?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't know what the population growth rate will be.

If the PRISON growth rate remains the same - i.e., if the number of prisoners increases at the same rate as in the past - then I think multiplying is in order. I.e, if we experience a 573% increase in prison population over the period 2004 - 2030, that's where we end up.

Anonymous said...

I looked up the Texas population growth data and between 1960 and 2000 it grew from 9.6 million to 20.8 million an average growth rate of 2% per year. At that rate the population of Texas will be about 37.8 million in 2030.

If there are 1 million in prison in 2030 the percent in prison will be 2.6% or the incarceration rate will be 2,650 per 100,000 Texans. The incarceration rate in 2000 was about 750 per 100,000.

Your projection suggests that Texans will be 3.5 times as likely to be engaged criminal activity in 2030 as they are today. I hope not.

Anonymous said...


You're missing the point. He's saying that the prison population will grow faster than the state population, as it already has. So your numbers of 2% growth in Texas generally actually bolster his argument, because we know that the prison population has grown far faster. That makes for an even greater discrepancy.

And, you're both forgetting about compound growth. Let's say Texas has a million people now. 2% is 20,000. But the next year, the population is one million and twenty thousand, so 2% is 20,400. And the year after that, with one million forty thousand and four hundred people, 2% is even higher at 20,880. And so on.

So, if the state climbs at your linear rate of 2% a year, as it has for a while, but the prison population grows even faster, as we know it has, but factor in what is essentially compound population growth, my money says Grits' numbers are low.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

JSN, a couple of things. First, if the incarceration rate was 750 in 2000, it was 1,035 per 100,000 as of last year. At that growth rate, it wouldn't surprise me at all if the numbers rose above 2,000 per 100,000 by 2030 - in fact, something would have to change for that NOT to happen.

Second, I don't believe Texans will be more likely to commit crimes in 2030. Nor do I believe theyr'e that much much more likely to commit crimes than in 1978, when Texas' incarceration rate per 100,000 was 166 per 100K! (See here for where I derived that figure - in 1978 we had 22,439 prisoners and 13.5 million people.)

The argument isn't that more Texans will commit crimes, just that we'll incarcerate more. Incarceration has skyrocketed in the last decade even though crime has declined. I believe that's because Texas is a) criminalizing more and different behaviors, and b) sentencing all offenders for much longer terms.

Anonymous said...

You are missing the point. For the prison population to reach 1 million by 2030 you have to take people who are not criminals and turn them into criminals so the incarceration rate will increase from 750 per 100,000 Texans to 2,650 per 100,000 Texans.

What is the mechanism? Will you put people who smoke in public in prison? If so then you can reach a million by 2030 with no problem.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

JSN, you could have made the same argument in 1978 -

For the incarceration rate to increase from 166 per 100K to 1035 per 100K, one would think you'd "have to take people who are not criminals and turn them into criminals."

Except that's just what happened. While we surely expanded the number of criminal offenses, I don't think that growth is explained by saying we "took people" and turned them into criminals. Do you? We just enforced existing laws more strictly and punished them more harshly.

If the incarceration rate can increase that much from '78 - '04 without any identifiable added criminal class, I don't see why you think that growth rate a) won't continue or b) has a limit.

Anonymous said...

Guess who is paying for all the long term and over population of prisons? We are! There are many who are Trusties and go outside the gates and work and drive trucks and make deliveries, but they are not allowed to go home. What is wrong with this picture? Plenty, they are using people for slave labor.

There needs to be big changes made in the BPP starting with Ms Owens and remove everyone of them from their position. Judges need to set lower terms and stop the money blood let to prisons. Guards don't make the money, so who is? I have some ideas and they begin with the State as the number one money maker from the use of this cheap labor.

There are so many open positions in all the units in Texas, they are hiring people who are just out of high school and still get pimples, this is horrible and something drastic needs to be done by our Legislators to stop this abuse of human life and not everyone who makes a mistake belongs in prison. Some who are elected are trying to make changes but until the change at the top beginning with the Governor on down takes place, there won't be any changes and this is the most atrocious situation I have ever heard of.

I made it a point to learn as much as I can regarding the mistreatment of human lives by TDCJ and BPP and those in charge and I am ashamed to live in Texas. But from what I have garnered, it is as bad or worse in other states.

Begin to make changes, only you and I can do this, get out and vote and get rid of some of those who refuse to make changes and like the status quo.

Anonymous said...


In general we are in agreement.

However there are new crimes such as public welfare crimes examples prohibited use of cell phones and phone cameras that criminalize former non-criminals. We also have new computer crimes and an increased frequency of computer assisted older crimes.

We also have a whole set of new drugs that have spawned a set of new drug crimes and new offenders. Stalking is relatively new as are some hate crimes and identity theft.

Technology has also made a difference because it is now possible to do fast global criminal records searches and check for outstanding warrants during a traffic stop, Technology has also increased the likelihood that probation/parole violations will be discovered and as a consequence there are more revocations.

There has been a very large increase in the number of violations of the sex offender registration law. The recent restrictions on place of residence have made a large number of persons who are not a threat to public safety into criminals.

The legislature can increase the growth rate by eliminating probation or decrease the growth rate by reducing the sentence length or increasing the good time fraction. The can also take steps to reduce the revocation rate.

There has to be a limit because if 60% of the population is in prison who will be paying taxes to operate the prisons (other than prison guards)?
There will be a taxpayers revolt long before it reaches 60%.

Anonymous said...

The Truth About State and Local Governments Having Excesses of Your Tax Dollars They Are Not Using.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Hell, JSN, I think there needs to be a taxpayer revolt because we're at 1% of adults incarcerated! I doubt we can sustain 1.5%, much less 60%!

Anonymous said...

JSN, using your population estimate, at "an average growth rate of 2% per year," if incarceration increased 8% for every 1% population growth, that would be 2% (annual rate) X (26 years) X 8% (per year) = 416% prison population increase by 2030, or about 628,000 additional inmates.

Anonymous said...

By 2030 I won't be around to find out how it turned out. But for the sake of Texans I hope the incarceration rate goes down.

Anonymous said...

Absolute insanity! I dont know the statistics for Texas but in Indiana, the majority (by a big number) of offenders are NON VIOLENT DRUG ADDICTS. Hello?? How about rehab centers and schools? Prisons. All the idiots in Austin can think about is where to build another one.