Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Will slight rise in inmate numbers keep Lege from closing prisons?

Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman reports that a modest increase in the number of inmates at TDCJ may squelch efforts to close prisons, something that's been happening in other states. His story today opens:
Faced with a possible $20 billion budget gap, Texas legislative leaders had hoped to discuss closing some state prisons to save money. However, those prisons that for months have had empty bunks are slowly filling back up.

And while officials are split about the reasons, most agree that if the trend continues, it could make decisions about slashing state spending even more difficult when the Legislature convenes in January.

Full prisons can't be closed without releasing convicts, a politically unthinkable solution. That leaves treatment and rehabilitation programs — two areas where Texas has expanded its funding and has been successful in recent years at reducing its prison population — as the likely targets for cuts that by some estimates could reach 15 percent of current spending.

About $6 billion of the state's $87 billion general revenue fund is spent on prisons.
I suspect a lot of "unthinkable" thoughts will get thunk before Texas finally gets serious about how enormous a $20-$30 billion shortfall really might be (something that may not happen until March or April), so I doubt this seasonal bump in inmate numbers will take prison closures off the table. There's also a chance the increase may be short-lived; Ward notes that "Parole rates historically drop during contested elections for governor."

In any event, Grits has argued repeatedly over the last year that, to actually achieve prison closures at levels needed to save real money at TDCJ, the Legislature must consider actual policy changes regarding sentencing and parole to reduce the number of incoming inmates and safely transition as many as possible to reentry. Front-end diversion significantly affects TDCJ's population numbers, while identifying ways to notch up parole rates by just 3% for the lowest risk inmates (the majority of TDCJ inmates are already parole eligible) would free up thousands of beds

Here are just a few policy changes suggested on this blog in the past to cut Texas' number of inmates:
Maybe right now these ideas seem "unthinkable." But Republicans have promised to address the budget crisis through cuts alone and no new taxes, so within those constraints, something's got to give.

RELATED: From Washington Monthly, see "Prison Break: How Michigan managed to empty its penitentiaries while lowering its crime rate."


Hook Em Horns said...


Anonymous said...

Save money, let my husband go! He has served his time-- release him! I will kick his ass if he EVER gets in any trouble or breaks the law again-- that will reduce recidivism! This life without him sucks! I did not get married to live out my years alone-- he got 15 years for a check he wrote 20 years ago! Let him go!

Ex-PO said...

Scott - Thanks for sharing the article about what is going on with reducing prison sentences and getting populations down in Michigan. Obviously one of the largest expenditures in Texas for prison care is in healthcare. I am wondering if those who would be eligible in another state for a medical parole would benefit in Texas because I am wondering who would then ensure that these folks got healthcare? I am in favor of medical parole, but not if doing so simply transfers the cost back to already over burdened county health care systems. Texas has always been really behind many of the other states with regard to getting prisoners educated and into jobs in the current marketplace that earn a liveble wage. I agree that the population needs to be drastically reduced, but am concerned that the time it would take to get programming to the offenders that would actually reduce recidivism will take so long as to make it unfeasible considering the current budget crisis. I think that the reductions of penalties as well as offering some mandatory parole is where Texas will have to look toward to. The only thing is TX parole officers are already carrying huge caseloads and aren't receiving sufficient training to do the job. Who will supervise these offenders that get released? I was a halfway house officer in 1999-2000 and the folks coming out on mandatory releases were not folks you could find home plans for, and in some instances had committed crimes so heinous they did not need to be walking around anyway. The mandatory releases need to be geared to the non-violent and those whose prison records were such that they can get along in a workplace or other public venue.

Anonymous said...

There are many locked up that don't need to be. Prison is for criminals. So many need to be out working & making a living for their families that are not CRIMINALS !!! This Texas system has got out of control on "LOCKEM UP."Each prison knows who are the criminals at their units. Just ask them. Keep the criminals locked up & turn the rest out.

Anonymous said...

Another thing that needs attention.
Good-time & earned-time needs to be made for some aggravated cases.
Some get rail-roaded by these so called court appointed lawyers that do nothing to help their clients & draw a check from the County.They should be able to serve
1/3 instead of 1/2 their time before being released.