Friday, February 01, 2008

LBB: Texas prison population growth "flat"

Prison building enthusiasts must have been disappointed to learn that the Legsislative Budget Board will release new estimates on Monday showing "flat" growth in Texas' prison population, just a year after LBB suggested the state would witness major prison bed shortfalls in the next few years.

Considering Texas' astronomical prison growth in recent decades and where we were just a short time ago, this is important news.

At the Statesman's blog, Mike Ward attributes the revised projections to a "slowdown in the number of new felons, a slightly increased parole rate, fewer revocations to prison from probation and parole and the projected impact of new treatment and rehabilitation programs approved by the Legislature last year." Those few tweaks combined to make a substantial difference:

Details: The report predicts Texas’ incarcerated population will average 156,364 this year, and rise to 158,470 in 2012.

That’s much less than projected a year ago. Then, the state was estimated to be more than 17,000 beds short by 2012, at growth rates at the time.

Officials have always said that the declining parole rates and longer sentences are the main cause of prison overcrowding. While that latter remains a problem, the former has improved. Projections last year indicated that if the parole rate for low-level, nonviolent offenders rose just 4%, it would resolve the current prison overcrowding crisis. Lately that's been happening; though I've not seen recent data, anecdotal evidence indicates such cases are getting paroled more quickly than in the past.

Parole rates for low-level offenders and revocation rates for probationers are both policy matters that are largely within the control of actors in the system. By contrast, I'm interested to read of the "slowdown in the number of new felons." I wonder what accounts for that, and whether it's explained by an overall crime reduction or a change in the types of offenders being prosecuted?

Voters approved bonds to construct three new prisons last year, but LBB must certify that the prisons are necessary before construction can begin. This makes me think the agency's number crunchers might not provide prison builders the fodder they needed to begin new construction in the near term, though no final decision has yet been made.

One nagging, back of the mind concern: Texas' prison overcrowding crisis has been the main cause spurring a variety of positive criminal justice reforms in the last few legislative sessions, and I'm hopeful these new figures won't lead anyone at the Lege to believe the problem is "solved," the way some of them went back to their districts after session last year to say that TYC was "fixed."

Texas has made impressive first steps toward rationalizing its justice system, but if the state stopped implementing new reforms now we'd be right back where we started a few years ago. The prisons are still full, and TDCJ still can't find enough guards to staff prisons we've got. This news just means that Rep. Jerry Madden and Sen. John Whitmire merely have bought the state enough time to seek long-term solutions.

That's still an enormous accomplishment, though, and both men deserve taxpayers' gratitude for staving off the wave of new prison entrants who would have surely overwhelmed an already flooded system.


Anonymous said...

The worst possible outcome of the "stable" prison population is that the health care reforms needed are not taken seriously.

Understaffing remains a problem that desperately needs to be solved. Both guards, prisoners and public safety are at risk.

TDCJ and TYC and the Criminal Court of Appeals (CCA) are still an embarassemnt to Texas. There is a very long way to go before anyone can rest!

Anonymous said...

Nothing has changed to protect Texas from criminals!

TDCJ tells their Parole Division not to "violate" parolees.

TDCJ tells their disciplinary staff in the Institutional Division NOT to take so much good time away from offenders.

TDCJ tells the CJAD folks to cut those probationers some slack.

A judge releases a felon on "shock Probation". This felon was convicted of assisting 7 felons in escaping and, as a result,they murdered a Irving Police Officer.

Once again a branch of the government completes their assignment for their political bosses; Dupe the public.

Retired 2004

Anonymous said...

Seeing as some of the biggest criminals are the ones who hold public office, I have to agree with you, Retired

Anonymous said...

Of all the murders committed in Texas, how many are committed by parolees?

How many are committed by x-felons?

How many people are dead at the hands of government? Don't forget to include inmates of TDCJ who die from lack of proper medical care.

Before you go crying about TDCJ policies in the name of public safety, you should know your facts.

Retired 2004 - I generally agree with your posts but this time I expect your career choice has biased your opinion.

Anonymous said...

No problem,that is what is so great about living in the USA. As far as knowing my facts, I do. Retired 2004

Anonymous said...

6.18 ~ murderers are the least likely of all felon groups to reoffend, plenty of studies to back that up, and SOs are the second least likely to reoffend. Have a look at TDCJ's website, thier list of all the DR inmates - a fair number of them had no prior convictions.

You are far more likely to have your home burgled or your car stolen to fund someone's drug habit than to be murdered, and just like child abuse those who are murdered are far more likely to be killed by a family member than a complete stranger.