Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Texas praised for prison pop reduction efforts

Texas' efforts to reduce prison population growth through drug diversion programs and probation reforms were highlighted in a Washington Post feature yesterday titled, "States seek less costly substitutes for prison" (July 13). According to reporter Keith Richburg:
what is striking, experts say, is how some states with reputations for being tough on crime are most rapidly embracing these policies, which might have once been dismissed as the product of liberal think tanks and soft-on-crime leniency.

Texas is a case in point. From 1978 to 2004, the inmate population rose 573 percent and the state's population increased 67 percent. [Ed. note: I wonder where that data came from?] With hard sentencing laws and some conservative judges, Texas built a "lock 'em up" reputation. The state has more than 155,00 inmates and leads the nation in putting prisoners to death.

But two years ago, Texas officials were faced with an alarming projection: By 2012, the state would need 17,000 more beds, which would mean building eight prisons at a cost of nearly $1 billion.

State Rep. Jerry Madden, a self-described conservative Republican, had just taken over as chairman of the Texas House committee on corrections. "I started asking questions," he said in a phone interview. To avoid building more beds for more prisoners, Madden said, "You either got to slow 'em going in, or speed 'em going out. And Texas is not a state that says, 'Speed 'em up going out.' "

Madden said he pulled together experts from conservative and liberal think tanks. "When it came to prison ideas that work, they all agreed," he said.

The changes, implemented in the 2007 legislative session, included more funding for drug and DWI courts. New rules shortened the average probation time from 10 years to five. With about 445,000 people on probation, the system had become "the Number One feeder to the prison system," said Ana Yáñez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a progressive group.

The state also ordered the parole board to raise its parole rate to an earlier number of 31 percent; the proportion of eligible inmates granted parole had slipped to 26 percent.

With those changes in place, prison population growth slowed to a trickle. From January 2007 until December 2008, Texas added 529 inmates to its total, a tenth of what was projected.

C. West Huddleston, chief executive of the Alexandria-based National Association of Drug Court Professionals, said Texas may have been in a better position than other states to make such dramatic changes because its prison growth was so much worse.

"Texas is a remarkable example of how to take control of an explosive prison population," he said. "If Texas can do it, any state can do it."

Via Doc Berman.


A.H. Jordan said...

With all respect for Rep. Madden (and I say that sincerely) the notion that Texas doesn't "speed them up going out" is just false. I don't know how we stack up to other states, but on average, an offender w/ no setoffs or other restrictions is going to do less than 1/4 of his/her sentence. I applaud the leg for tackling this issue, but let's be candid about the facts.

Anonymous said...

I am glad to hear this, I know a lot of young adults that have gone to prison for drug related offences. I know of none of them that came out better, they were either worse or unchanged. The ones that would talk about it told stories about all the fights they seen or were in and how the guards just stood around and watched them fight, kind of like watching dog fights. Rehab and training would be a much better solution.

Anonymous said...

I was reading yesterday where a lawyer that had been sentenced to 15 years for contempt of court was finally released, cited as the punishedment had become punitive... If it takes 15 years for a punishment to become punitive, what was year 8? or year 10? a walk in the park!?! When will law makers and jurists understand that prison is not an answer for all issues, or even the majority of issues.

Anonymous said...

A. H. Jordan is wrong. The law requires 1/4 of the sentence be served. That means no one even becomes eligible for parole until they have completed 1/4 of their sentence.

Then factor in that the Parole Board only releases 30% of elibible prisoners and there is no way that on average an offender can do less than 1/4 of his/her sentence.

The important part of this post is that Texas is sending fewer folks to prison. That is good!

A.H. Jordan said...

"Average" is a guess on my part, but I'll stand by it. My comment referred to offenders who are non 3(g) status, no "deadly weapon" or "drug free zone" findings, etc. That would pretty much exclude violent criminals and sexuall predators. For everyone else the TDCJ guidelines state an inmate is eligible when "calendar time + good time = 1/4, including work credits and bonus, Maximum 15 yrs." This has been in effect since September 1999. Under those rules, a defendant doing 8 years on a 2nd degree felony could very easily be released in less than 2 years. I'm happy to respectfully disagree, I'm simply basing my comment on what I've seen in my own practice. Who knows, maybe all of my clients are just really good guys.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

To A.H. Jordan, I don't believe your information is correct. See these TDCJ stats (on p. 47 of the pdf) regarding percentage of sentence served by offense type.

SB said...

To A.H.Gordon
It surely would be a shame to see those "sexual predators" given the same chance at parole as other inmates.And then they have another sentence of registration to serve and that is often for life.

Anonymous said...

"TDCJ guidelines state an inmate is eligible when "calendar time + good time = 1/4, including work credits and bonus, Maximum 15 yrs." This has been in effect since September 1999. Under those rules, a defendant doing 8 years on a 2nd degree felony could very easily be released in less than 2 years."

You are supposing that the BPP follows those or any other guidelines. They don't. This has been widely documented on this blog, the Sunset Commission reports, and the in the Texas State Lege Committee hearings.

Anonymous said...

"pretty much exclude violent criminals and sexuall (sic) predators"

Could you name off an example of one of these sexual predators for us? I mean there are many and all.. Lets see.. There are 53000 people on the sex offender registry, and only a small portion of them are in prison, so lets take a number of 15% just for example. so 15% of these 'predators' are up for parole.. Now, are they all predatory? According to the statistics released by the University of Washington, The DOJ, and several other sources, the percentage of sexual predators out of a general gathering is 7%.. so if we take that number it would be 7950 total offenders locked up of which 7% would be predators, or 556.5 lets say 557.. So the other 7393 prisoners are eligible for release after 1/4 of their sentence?

I thought not, but you show your ignorance. Not all sexual offenders are predators, nor are half of them predatory. The truth of the matter is that a very slight percentage is predatory, yet ALL are made to give their lives to a totalitarian regime bent on never allowing them to better themselves and straighten themselves out.

And please, before you start with they wouldn't be on the registry if they weren't so dangerous fallacy.. I have two things to say. First, several hundreds of thousands of NOW registered people were not a registry in the 1980's and 1990's and yet they were not statistically generating new crimes in large number, not even small numbers. And Second, Out of 100% of sex offenders, it is proven that only 3% to 7% will commit new sexual offenses. If you do not allow them to succeed then you are dooming them.

Anonymous said...

6:36 said:

If you do not allow them to succeed then you are dooming them.

Amen,amen,amen. Many people wish to better themselves after committing an offense. But, with all the present criminal background checks for employment, licensing, volunteering, housing,etc-they don't stand a chance. This occurs not only for those who served time in prison, but for those who simply have any past offense on the record-even those who were never convicted.

A.H. Jordan said...

First, to Scott, thanks for the link, and I stand corrected. I made an off-the-cuff comment based on my own experience w/out data to back it up. Probably not the last time I'll be wrong about something.

To Anon at 6:27 I used the term "sexual predators" to note that convictions for sexuall assualt, indecent exposure, etc. fall under a different set of guidelines for parole. If you disagree w/ my description of the nature of the offense - that's fine by me.

To "SB," it's JORDAN not GORDON. Gordon is actually a good friend of mine and we were often mistaken for brothers in high school, but that ain't me.

Still, this is one of my favorite bolgs to visit and I appreciate the different view points.

Anonymous said...

It's too bad Rep. Madden has lost his mind and sounds like an idiot in this article.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

What about his comments did you find troubling, 8:05, or did you just want to spew insults at Rep. Madden with no content or context?

Anonymous said...

If we really want to reduce the cost of the justice system consider two things...

1. Legalize or decriminalize illicit drug use (approx. 24,000 inmates in Texas). The drug problem is a health and education problem and cannot be meaningfully dealt with using criminal justice policy responses. The two most dangerous drugs are legal -- alcohol and tobacco.

Prohibition is highly counterproductive -- it increases drug use, increases drug potency, increases health risks (adulterants, uncontrolled potency, etc.), increases crime and violence, increases prison populations, makes drug easier to access by anyone of any age all that is required is cash.

2. Employ restorative and community justice processes more broadly in Texas -- especially with misdemeanor offenses (approximately 80% of offenses) and felony property crimes.

Some things to consider.... What we are doing is not working and we don't have much to lose by changing the ways we think about these issues.

Anonymous said...

If the State of Texas wants to continue reducing it's prison population, it must put more resources into probation and restructure the way probation is funded. What is not mentioned in the article is how revoking fewer probationers puts additional strain on probation departments. Currently, probation departments in Texas rely on collecting fees from probationers for fifty percent of the department's operating revenue. In Dallas Co., for example, there are 22 million dollars in uncollected fees. Most of this money will never be collected. The State of Texas must fund probation departments up front just like every other criminal justice agency if it wants to continue the trend of sending fewer people to prison.

Anonymous said...

"To Anon at 6:27 I used the term "sexual predators" "

Exactly my point. No matter what context you use it in, if you are not referring to the very small and specific group of sex offenders that are predatory, then you are helping to continue the fallacy that is the registry and the branding of one time sexual offenders. If you would have said that sex offenders are not eligible, then I would have agreed with you and not found fault, however your term 'predator' being used for the whole instead of the few continues to allow ignorance to be spread to the masses. It is time that EVERYONE understands that and learns the truth. If you do not know the truth, please find it. Although the 'crime' of sexual assault is considered violent, did you know that a great number of Romeo/Juliet and statutory rape cases are filed and tried under that law? penal code 22.11 .. Even the 'victims' with a fake ID can usually get their Mark for sexual assault if they have the right DA behind them.

Anonymous said...

to anon 10:45 AM:
"revoking fewer probationers puts additional strain on probation departments. Currently, probation departments in Texas rely on collecting fees from probationers for fifty percent of the department's operating revenue."...

Quite frequently most of the probationers probation time is much too length. Entirely unnecessary. Just as the article states "New rules shortened the average probation time from 10 years to five." (of course I am not sure if that's across the board or DWI related) - that's less for the probation board to have to deal with if the probation times are reduced. So many conditions are put on probationers it's rediculous and usually have nothing to do with their offense. It gets to a point if you sneeze wrong your probation is revoked and your going back to jail. All that means is spending more tax payer dollers, and continueing to be a continued burden to the probation dept. For example, I have a friend in Bexar County who is on probation for Driving with License invalid. His probation stipulates he can't drink alcohol. So if he has a beer and a police officer chooses to enforce that, he can go to prison. Exactly what does that have to do with his conviction? All the state is doing is increasing his chances of having his probation revoked and going back to jail, thereby elongating his probation time. That is what is putting the strain on the probation dept, not "revoking fewer probationers puts additional strain on probation departments."

Anonymous said...

5:15 p.m. Lengthy probation terms, placing every misdemeanor offender on probation, and revoking fewer felons all net the same result of putting too much strain on probation. These things are not mutually exclusive. By the way, you seem a bit confused. Your friend cannot go to prison for a class B misdemeanor offense, driving while license suspended, even if he's caught tossing back a cold one while driving. Your homie, would only spend a few days in the filthy surroundings of the Bexar Co. jail.

Anonymous said...

Sex Offenders will not recieve viable counseling in Prison! If you cant lock them up for good, "they are always capable of committing another offense," then you had better give them counseling that will allow them to modify their DEVIANT BEHAVIORS or they WILL RE-OFFEND!
In Bexar County, they just close their eyes and don't look for violations, that way they can reduce revocations. That's the chief and director of operations way to FIX things. But, What would you expect of someone who lives daily with their cabeza in their rectum!

Anonymous said...

I wonder how many people have taken a plea on the same kind of advice offered by Mr. Jordan? I fear his misperception of the parole situation is not an isolated one.

Hook Em Horns said...

The only reason Texas is reducing prison population is because we don't have room for all these people. Texas doesn't do anything for humanitarian or compassionate reasons (the government or it's entities), it does them solely for the financial benefit of the state.

Anonymous said...


Here are some quotes from the commenters at the end of the posted article...

"What this article fails to
Thu, 05/22/2008 - 16:20 — Rita Nakashima Brock (not verified)
What this article fails to mention is that the U.S. Constitutional Ammendment that abolished slavery states: "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction." The reason the U.S. has the largest incarceration rates in the world, with an increasingly privatized prison system, is that this is our one constitutionally protected form of slavery, according to Harvard legal scholar Kaia Stern.
So, with the prisons
Thu, 05/22/2008 - 16:43 — Anonymous (not verified)
So, with the prisons overflowing, we could use slavery as an alternate form of punishment. Perhaps this would be a new source of revenue for the federal and state governments. Once a person has been convicted, sell the convict to some business. Say! That would bring our labor costs down! Maybe we could compete with all the other countries that use slave labor and make our country a manufacturing power again in the 21st Century way of doing business.
Two consecutive people hit
Thu, 05/22/2008 - 17:13 — Anonymous (not verified)
Two consecutive people hit it on the nail. Prison slavery is alive and well in the U.S., and it's thanks to the 13th Amendment. Check this out: http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig9/bacon1.html