Friday, April 22, 2011

Harris County among leaders in national jail population decline

Harris County, now the third largest local jail system in the country (passing Chicago's Cook County a few years back), is one of six county jails in the United States to reduce its overall inmate population by more than 1,000 prisoners last year, which marked the second year running that the overall national county jail population declined. Says the Bureau of Justice Statistics:
The U.S. local jail inmate population has declined for the second consecutive year, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. The jail population declined by 2.4 percent in the 12 months ending June 30, 2010.

The number of inmates dropped from 767,434 to 748,728. This follows a 2.3 percent decline in 2009 and is the second time the jail population has declined since BJS began the Annual Survey of Jails in 1982. In addition, the jail incarceration rate in 2010 declined to 242 jail inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents―the lowest rate since 2003.

Local jails, unlike prisons, are confinement facilities mainly operated by a local law enforcement agency. Jails typically hold inmates while they await court action or serve a sentence of one year or less.

The decline in jail inmates was mostly concentrated in large jail jurisdictions, or those holding 1,000 or more inmates. Among the 170 jail jurisdictions with 1,000 or more inmates on an average day, two-thirds reported a decline. Six jail jurisdictions reported a drop of more than 1,000 inmates, accounting for 46 percent of the decline nationwide.

Los Angeles County, Calif., with a drop of 3,007 inmates, led the nation in overall decline in its inmate population during the 12 months ending June 30, 2010. Five other jail jurisdictions reported a decline of more than 1,000 inmates during this period: Maricopa County, Ariz. (down 1,196 inmates); Orange County, Calif. (down 1,143); Philadelphia, Pa. (down 1,111); Fresno County, Calif. (down 1,105); and Harris County, Texas (down 1,096). 
With an inmate population made up mostly of pretrial defendants, there's obviously a lot more turnover at local jails than state prisons. The BJS found that jails on average see 17 admissions annually for every occupied bed reported, with local jails admitting nearly 13 million people nationally in the year ending June 30, 2010. Large jails everywhere tend to be full, while many smaller jails have extra capacity, says BJS, which jibes with the pattern in Texas to a T. Here's the full report (pdf).

Five Texas jails rank among the 50 largest: Harris County has the nation's third largest jail, behind Los Angeles and New York City. (Even at these reduced numbers, the Harris County Jail is still larger than the prison systems of 19 states.) Dallas' jail is 7th largest in the county; San Antonio's 16th; Tarrant County's 26th; and Travis County's 34th; 

The incarceration rate of 242 per 100,000 gives us a national benchmark to which we may compare Texas county incarceration rates, which are updated monthly by the Commission on Jail Standards in this report (pdf), which gives the ratio in terms of inmates per 1,000, but may be adusted. Here are the rates for a few Texas counties for comparison, in declining order:
Hudspeth: 769
Limestone: 531
Gregg: 485
Potter: 430
Ector: 427
Wichita: 425
McLenan: 385
Tom Green: 382
Smith: 382
Lubbock: 380
Jefferson 373
Galveston: 327
Cameron: 309
Nueces 295
Dallas: 287
Kaufman: 282
Brazoria: 275
Grayson: 257
Harris: 257
Bexar: 255
Bell: 245
Angelina: 244
Johnson: 242
Montgomery: 241
Travis: 238
Midland: 233
Randall: 231
Walker: 228
Hays: 217
El Paso: 205
And it should be mentioned: What's widely considered the safest city in America? Why El Paso, of course, which is one of the few counties of any size incarcerating its citizens substantially less frequently than the national average. Who'da thunk?


Prison Doc said...

But that's always begged the question: If Juarez is supposed to be the most dangerous city in the hemisphere, why is ELP right across the river so safe? Is it, or are they just ignoring crime? Curious.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

In part it's because everybody knows where their bread is buttered and the cartel leadership mostly live on the US side.

Ironically, much of the violence in Juarez allegedly is perpetrated by Barrio Azteca members organized from Texas prisons who cross the river for work as enforcers. So the "spillover" is in the other direction, with much of the Juarez violence by most accounts attributable to Americans. IMO that's the macabre explanation for the eery silence in El Paso and much of the rest of the border - cartel leaders know not to crap where they sleep.

Anonymous said...

I guarantee you crime is not down in Harris County, leadership is just ignoring the problem and leaving the community to deal with the aftermath.