Wednesday, December 09, 2009

DOJ: Lower prison growth rate due to reduced incarceration of black people for drug crimes

Texas ranks among national leaders at reducing state incarceration rates and probation rolls, according to the latest federal data summarizing state and federal corrections data.

Here are two new reports (forwarded by a helpful reader) from the Bureau of Justice Statistics at USDOJ comparing state prison, probation and parole populations:
Let's run through a few highlights, with an emphasis on Texas' standing:

According to BJS, the massive growth in state prison populations witnessed in recent decades is finally beginning to retard, though trends vary widely from state to state. "State and federal prisons and local jails had custody or physical guardianship over 2,304,115 inmates [at the end of 2008], an increase of 0.3% from yearend 2007." In addition, more than 5 million Americans - about one in 45 - were under community supervision at the end of 2008. In all, "Over 7.3 million men and women were under some form of correctional supervision at yearend 2008."

The report brings some good news on the home front: Remarkably, by DOJ's calculations, Texas tied with Massachussetts last year for the biggest reduction in prison incarceration rates (p. 7):
Twenty-eight states reported a decrease in their imprisonment rates, 20 states reported an increase, and two states reported no change to their imprisonment rates at yearend 2008. Massachusetts and Texas (both down 31 prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents) reported the largest declines in their imprisonment rates. Pennsylvania (up 28 prisoners per 100,000), Florida (up 21 prisoners per 100,000), and Alabama (up 19 prisoners per 100,000) reported the largest increases in their imprisonment rates at yearend.
Indeed, looking at prison growth rates from 2000-2007, Texas' prison population grew less overall than any southern state except Maryland. New Jersey, New York, and Maryland were the three US states which saw declines in the absolute number of prisoners since the turn of the century; Texas' prisoner total increased by just 0.4% over that period.

Just as importantly, Texas is one of a handful states that actually reduced instead of expanded its probation rolls last year:
Growth in the probation population was partially offset by a decrease of 38,383 probationers in 20 other states and the federal system. Nearly three-quarters (72%) of this decrease occurred in five states, each of which had a probation population of more than 100,000. Those five states include California (-9,602) which reported the largest absolute decrease in its probation population, followed by Texas (-7,226), Michigan (-5,704), Washington (-2,757), and New York (-2,209).
Nationally, says BJS, "The most common type of offense for which probationers were under supervision in 2008 was a drug offense."

Another key data point: By the feds' calculation, 11.6% of Texas' prisoners are housed in private facilities compared to 8% nationally and 16.5% in the federal system. The total number of Texas inmates in private prisons increased by a whopping 43% between 2000 and 2007, says the bulletin. Nineteen states house no inmates at all in private prisons.

BJS made a rather startling observation concerning the reduced national growth rate in prison populations, declaring that it's primarily associated with declining incarceration rates among black folks, mostly for drug crimes:
The number of sentenced blacks in state prisons fell to 508,700 in 2006, declining
by 53,300 prisoners since 2000. More than half of this decline (56%) was made up of 29,600 fewer blacks imprisoned for drug offenses.

The number of sentenced white and Hispanic prisoners convicted of a drug offense increased from 2000 to 2006, offsetting the decline in the number of imprisoned black drug offenders. Imprisoned white drug offenders increased by 13,800 prisoners during this period; the number of Hispanic drug offenders increased by 10,800. Consequently, the overall number of sentenced drug offenders in state prison increased by 14,700 prisoners.
That suggestion will inevitably be fodder for much debate over race and incarceration, though black folks are still dramatically overrepresented in prison compared to their proportion of the citizenry.

RELATED: See AP's coverage of the reports, which includes this notable observation:

The statistics are the latest evidence that the rapid growth of prisons seen in the 1990s has cooled significantly in this decade.

The prison population grew less than 1 percent last year. The previous decade saw the inmate population grow by an annual average of more than 6 percent.

Ram Cnaan, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Social Policy and Practice, said the slowing trend shows politicians are confronting a painful truth about prisons.

"They simply cost too much," said Cnaan. "If you can prevent opening a new prison, you can save lots of money."

Both liberals and conservatives are increasingly searching for alternative sentencing programs, like treatment or monitoring, he said.

"It's not ideological, it's pragmatic," said Cnaan. "This is the first time that we have alliances on the right and left on this issue, and it's the money that has forced the issue."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

They poison their own neighborhoods with crack, etc. Some seem to want them back on the streets.