Thursday, February 28, 2008

We're Biggest! But Are We Overcompensating?

Biggest heads and biggest hearts, biggest various body parts,
Let's sing another stupid Texas song!

- The Austin Lounge Lizards "Stupid Texas Song"
Doc Berman brings word that Texas now officially has the largest state prison population in the country, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts, after California's inmate total declined last year. That's pretty impressive when you consider that Texas has just over 23 million residents, while more than 36 million people live in California. But we imprison more people than they do!

Nationwide, one in 99 adults are incarcerated, reports Pew (see their report), with Texas leading the way. Even more astonishing, one in nine black men age 20-34 are incarcerated nationwide, according to a chart on page 6.

Interestingly, despite our state topping the incarceration charts, Pew cited legislative initiatives by Sen. John Whitmire and Rep. Jerry Madden in 2007 as a positive example of changing policies to manage booming corrections populations without reducing public safety (p. 17-18):
Between 1985 and 2005, the Texas prison population jumped 300 percent, forcing a vast expansion of prison capacity. After investing $2.3 billion to add 108,000 beds, Texas didn’t get much of a breather. Within less than a decade, its prisons were teeming and experts forecast the arrival of another 14,000-17,000 inmates within five years.

In 2007, legislators from both parties decided it was time for a course change. Rather than spend $523 million on more prison cells, they authorized a virtual makeover of the correctional system.

Anchoring their approach was a dramatic expansion of drug treatment and diversion beds, many of them in secure facilities. Legislators also approved broad changes in parole practices and expanded drug courts. In all, the reforms are expected to save Texas $210 million over the next two years—plus an additional $233 million if the recidivism rate drops and the state can avoid contingency plans to build three new prisons.

“It’s always been safer politically to build the next prison, rather than stop and see whether that’s really the smartest thing to do,” said state Sen. John Whitmire of Houston, chairman of the senate’s criminal justice committee. “But we’re at a point where I don’t think we can afford to do that anymore.”

At the start of 2008, the future looked promising in the Lone Star state. For the next five years, new projections by the Legislative Budget Board show, the prison trend is a flat line.
In addition to having the largest prison population in the country, more than half a million additional Texans are on probation or parole, meaning about one in 20 adult Texans currently is under either institutional or community supervision of the criminal justice system.

MORE: See MSM coverage from the Houston Chronicle, the Washington Post and the New York Times. Pete at Drug War Rants pulls some big-picture lowlights from the report, Simple Justice examines the counterspin from incarceration supporters, and Rev. Alan Bean at the Friends of Justice blog adds his two cents.


Anonymous said...

It looks like you and I are the only ones who see this as disgraceful and insulting.

Anonymous said...

While the future looks bright, the legislation does nothing to correct injustices inflicted upon the current prison population.

The Board of Pardons and Paroles has done nothing to make the promise of parole a reality for most inmates.

Conditions in prison are unsafe because of violence and woefully inadequate medical care.

There is a great deal of work to be done before the culture moves away from punishment and toward rehabilitation.

Public safety depends on rehabilitation and a meaningful second chance after incarceration.

It is disgraceful, insulting and worst of all, many will view the current state of Texas criminal justice an improvement.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Having that many people in prison is insulting and Texas should be ashamed. Some of the Judges should be removed from the bench they sit on and replaced. The lawyers and Judges would rather make a plea deal than give a person the right to chose what would be best for him.

Texas whole Judicial System is sick and needs to be redone, dismantle the BPP and make TDCJ follow their own rules also and not allow each Warden to make whatever rule he/she wants where ever they are, this is how we got into such a financial mess.

I pray Sen. Whitmire and Rep. Jerry Madden can continue to make changes and keep Gov. Perry from vetoing the good bills for the good of Texas and let him go for the VP job he really wants---forgot his pick had to drop out, now what job can we find for him, just get him out of office.

Conditions are unsafe in all units as there are 4000 open jobs listed for TDCJ guard positions and who can blame those who leave. The pay stinks and the Wardens are insulting to some of their own wowrkers. Inmates do not adequate, next to no medical care, which makes this more unsafe. You would think as many law suits that have been filed against TDCJ and UYMB for lack of care and caring and the deaths of inmates especially the young man who died from a brain abscess caused by a sphenoid sinus infection, would get someone's attention.

When someone is paroled,they should be released within two weeks or no longer than one month after the decision is made and not have to stay for a class that should have been ongoing before parole time. There are many thousands who have been paroled and are still inhouse because no one makes TDCJ do their job and get them processed out. It should not take two months to discharge someone, even hospitals work faster than that.

Do something to make Texas better and once the parolee has completed his parole, take this off his record, so not keep him/her pay the rest of their lives and people wonder why some keep returning to prison, they are taught nothing and good time and work time should be returned and benefit the Inmate and not just taken back by the State. Whoever thought that up should have to suffer the consequences and spend a few years of his life in prison for fraud!!

Anonymous said...

Great comment!! You have said everything I would have. Of course there are so many issues on so many levels of this dysfunctional system. The first thing that comes to my mind is independent oversight. That would include the judicial branch, prisons, pardons and paroles and da's. There are a lot of us interested in change. We need to work together to bring about these changes. Check the prisontalk/texas site, we are hearing and trying to expose some serious issues.

Anonymous said...

Legalize weed and our numbers would drop considerably. But, thats the stairway drug, Right??

Anonymous said...

It's called a gateway drug, come on, get it right! Just kidding!

In all reality though, our criminal justice system is anything but just. After spending several years as a probation officer I came to realize that our focus was not at all on rehabilitation but seeing how much money we could bring in for the department. If an offender was making regular payments, he/she did not have to attend classes, nor did they have to leave UAs as directed by their court order.

On the flip side of that, if someone was paying and doing as well as they could have, but for some reason was disliked by certain officers or supervisors, an MTR was often filed. The thing is, very few people in criminal justice view criminals as "people," and they oftentimes play tiddly winks despite the fact that someone's life is on the line.

Unfortunately, many of the good Judges are overlooked because of the ones that are too politically involved to pay attention to the real issues at hand. I was privileged enough to serve under some very good Judges, as well as some "not so good" ones.

Politics play a nasty role in TDCJ and CJAD, and their affects can also be witnessed with everything that is happening in TYC right now. People need to learn to do the right thing when NO ONE is looking, not just when the focus turns on them. That would solve a lot of the problems our criminal justice system is dealing with.