Wednesday, December 23, 2009

(Slightly) higher Texas parole rates helping reduce overincarceration

Via Sentencing Law & Policy, I noticed this AP article predicting the United States' overall prison population may decline in 2009 for the first time in decades. The article contained this Texas tidbit:
the economic crisis forced states to reconsider who they put behind bars and how long they kept them there, said Kim English, research director for the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice.

In Texas, parole rates were once among the lowest in the nation, with as few as 15 percent of inmates being granted release as recently as five years ago. Now, the parole rate is more than 30 percent after Texas began identifying low-risk candidates for parole.
I replied thusly in the comments about that particular claim:
I don't recall Texas' parole rates ever being at 15% anytime in recent memory. There has been an increase, but it's much more modest - from about 27% several years ago to 30-31% today. But when you've got 160,000 prisoners and release 75,000 per year, that 4% bump is enough to make a big difference b/c our prison system is right at capacity.

Also, Texas' rising parole rate isn't really a money-driven decision, at least not directly. Instead, the parole board for years had refused to release DWI and drug offenders who'd not received treatment while incarcerated. In 2007 and 2009 the Texas Lege invested significantly in treatment programs in and out of prison (to avoid even more expensive new prison building), and now that those resources are available the parole board has been releasing those sorts of petty offenders at higher rates.
I was citing those stats from memory, but looking at the Board of Pardons and Paroles' annual report (pdf), I was pretty close. Texas' 2008 parole rate was about the same as in 2004 (30.74% compared to 30.37%), but it dipped as low as 26.26% in 2006. Here's the data for recent years:
2004: 30.37%
2005: 27.50%
2006: 26.26%
2007: 29.82%
2008: 30.74%
That said, even as straight-up parole rates increased, the rates of approval for prisoners eligible for release under the oxymoronically named "Discretionary Mandatory Supervision" (DMS) have been declining steadily over the same period - from a 58.11% approval rate in 2004 to 49.97% in 2008 - somewhat mitigating the benefits from higher parole rates. DMS represents about half the number of TDCJ releases compared to parole, but it's still a large number.

By my calculations, if DMS approval rates in 2008 had been the same as in 2004, the parole board would have released 1,450 more prisoners. Then we really could start the debate about whether it's time to close one or more prisons.

There are lots more data in the parole board's annual report that may be fodder for future additional posts.


Anonymous said...

Well, looky here!!! What a timely example in today's Houston Chronicle of the reformative benefits of early release from prison!!!

What do you think we ought to do with a guy who has 10 DWI convictions on his record and persists in driving drunk, Grits? Obviously the revocation of his driver's license was not a deterrent. Under Texas law, he can now be prosecuted as a felony "habitual offender." Do we throw the book at him and give this "nonviolent offender" 25 years or more? What say you?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I think in such a case, incarceration is probably necessary and inevitable. If those types of extreme examples were the only folks sent to prison - as opposed to, say, thousands of less-than-a-gram drug offenders - there would be no overincarceration crisis.

As for 25 years, probably not. The juice (public safety benefit) isn't worth the squeeze (the cost of incarcerating him into his 70s). That kind of sentence should be reserved for serious violent offenders, not drunks. So to get back to the topic of the post, he should be incarcerated, but he should also be eligible down the line for parole.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Also, Texas has one of the lowest three-year recidivism rates in the country - about 28% (compared to 60+% in California). So when you cite examples like that to say no one should be paroled, you're focusing on anecdotal evidence and ignoring the large majority of cases where prisoners get out and don't immediately begin to reoffend.

Anonymous said...

Non-3g habitual offenders are eligible for good time and parole under current Texas law. This would included Felony DWI convicts. In that connection, a 25 year sentence for this 10 time (that he's been caught) drunk driver will likely translate into into something less than 10 years behind bars.

I do wonder how many inmates in TDCJID are really there for possession of less than one gram. For the last 15 or so years, these have all been State Jail Felonies. Since, like 2003, the law has required mandatory probation for all first time less than one gram possession offenders. That means, for the most part, that most inmates currently in the system for possession of less than a gram are either repeat offenders or violated their probation and got revoked.

I can tell you that in our county, most of these less than one gram probationers get two or three opportunities to violate their probation before they get revoked. For the most part, they just about have to commit a new felony before they get sent to the pen. Before then, they usually get all sorts of treatment options---outpatient, inpatient, ISF, and finally SAFPF (which no one wants to go to, they'd rather just go do their time).

Is there any way, Grits, to know how many inmates in TDCJID are actually there for a single first offense possession of less than one gram case (not DELIVERY of less than one gram, by the way, which most people feel is an entirely different matter)?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Don't know how many offhand, but it's a lot fewer than it was before Texas passed HB 2668 in 2003 that mandated probation on the first offense in those cases.

Either way, most offenders going in don't have as egregious a record as the example you point to and most coming out don't as readily reoffend. The media don't focus on the case studies of the 70%+ who aren't rearrested three years out, but they're just as important to consider as this guy's case.

sunray's wench said...

I suspect that even if TDCJ were forced by law to close one or two units, the Parole Board would not be paroling more inmates. TDCJ would simply start putting beds in the gym halls and making inmates sleep 3 to a cell (that was barely designed to hold one inmate) like they do during hurricane evecuations.

Mark #1 said...

As for felony DWI being a non-3g offense, you are correct under the literal terms of 42.12. However, many prosecutors have been successful in circumstances like the case here in convincing a jury that the vehicle was a deadly weapon. Since there was an accident and a police chase, such a finding would be presumable supportable. With a deadly weapon finding, this case would become a 3g, and therefore the offender would have to serve half of the sentence before even becoming eligible for parole consideration.

Anonymous said...

Mark # 1, if this guy had a wreck and a chase, he probably deserves a deadly weapon finding. With 10 priors, hopefully he will have to serve at least half of his sentence before he becomes parole eligible.

I'm not aware, however, of prosecutors in my area routinely seeking the deadly weapon finding in ordinary felony DWI's---just in cases of intoxication assault or intoxication manslaughter.

Hook Em Horns said...

Anonymous said...

Since, like 2003, the law has required mandatory probation for all first time less than one gram possession offenders.
Someone forgot to tell the judges in Harris County. You Anonymous assholes crack me up. YOU DONT KNOW S#!7!

Anonymous said...

You know all you have to do is "slip up" in Tx to end up in the human warehouse. I can't wait till one of you perfect people slip up and end up in there. I got out of the Army in 1989 and was hanging around the wrong people, they had been breaking into businesses, so I was thrown in there with them. I was only guilty of having the wrong friends. This can happen to anyone at anytime. All you need is a big fat lazy chief of police who doesn't care who gets the wrap.

Anonymous said...

My father is an uneducated individual and stupid enough not to play the prosecuter's games. Turned down a 2 year plea bargain and was subsequentially punished for asserted his rights to trial. He received a 25 yr sentence after blowing a .08 at a TX Nascar road stop. Not that he shouldn't have been punished severly, just was that his previous misdemeanor DWI's were 11 and 12 years prior so they charged his misdemeanor DWI as a felony in 2009 (as the TX code had revoked discluding DWI misdemeanor charges from a decade or longer) He was then told that in 1986, over two decades earlier, when he was in his early 20's he had received a burlary charged, deferred adjudication. He failed to pay $58 amonth for probation. He was in violation of probation and sent to work release phacility in TX. He did not return from work and received an escape in 1989. So in 2010 he received a 25 yr sentence charged under enhanced dwi and enhanced felony (two enhancement paragraphs for the same charge)and is now rotting away in Navasota prison. TX classified his inmate status using conviction from over 2 decades previous so he was chained at the feet and in some special color uniform as if he was an escape risk or something. Recivism does not referr to 3 years out of prison. Guess statues of limitations are for everything put a criminal record. And escape is viewed as one of the same wether it be a barbwire fence or you were allotted time and failed to comply with such rules and regulations. So TX was so worried about the safety of it's public that instead of revoking a license they let him drive with some stupid machine in his car. Dumb to give someone 25yrs before you even find a need to revoke a license. Breathalisers are a cop out to get more profitable slaves into their system. Lucky the feds are TX only restraints or the slavery in TX may be as much as two fold. They took my father and mentally destroyed him and me and my kids in the process. With no help or resources given to the family of the offender who receives 25 yrs. and I have never done anything wrong. Texas is a doomed state, because if what goes around comes around, the lack of wisdom displayed by their judges, allowing the sentencing commission to play the role of judge, leads to their own dimise. Plus sentences can not be more proportionate by sentencing guidlines with no account taken to plea bargaining. When an individual goes from a 2 yr plea bargain to 5 yr plea bargain, to
10yr plea bargain to a 25 yr sentence for asserting his rights to trial. Yeah, dumb mistake, like I said he's uneducated, he's a roofer, and can barely read. The system is about money. You just end up with more time if you don't have it to pay for trial, appeal, or probation attorney.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing your dads story and for speaking up on his behalf.Unfortunately,the legal system in Texas is a insatiable monster,taking in everything in its path.