Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Texas jail populations down 9.5% since 2008, declining faster than nationally

The Sentencing Project issued a press release today on a topic Grits has recently remarked upon: The decline in county jail populations, which have lowered significantly more quickly than prison populations. Says the Sentencing Project:
Washington, D.C. - An analysis of new data on jail populations in the U.S. shows that the number of people confined in local jails is declining at a more rapid rate than in state and federal prisons. The Sentencing Project finds that from 2007-2010 the incarceration rate in jails declined by more than three times the rate of prisons, 6.6% compared to 1.8%.

“The sustained decline in both prison and jail populations has produced no adverse effects on public safety,” stated Marc Mauer, Executive Director of The Sentencing Project. “We now have the opportunity to free up resources for public safety initiatives that do not depend on record rates of incarceration.”

The analysis is based on data released today by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) in its annual report of individuals in jail, Jail Inmates at Midyear 2011. The report shows a decline in the number of inmates for the third consecutive year. In its reports, BJS provides figures for jail populations at midyear and for prison populations at the year’s end. Jails are local facilities that generally house persons awaiting trial or serving short sentences, while prisons are run by state and federal governments to confine persons sentenced to one year or more of incarceration.

The BJS report also documents a sharp 23.4% reduction in the number of juveniles housed in adult jails between 2008-2011. The practice of housing juveniles with adults has come under criticism from a broad range of organizations because of increased exposure to violence and abuse.

The Sentencing Project is a national non-profit organization engaged in research and advocacy on criminal justice policy.
See the DOJ report (pdf), which notes that: "Local jails admitted an estimated 11.8 million persons during the 12 months ending midyear 2011, down from 12.9 million persons admitted during the same period in 2010 and 13.6 million in 2008. The number of persons admitted in 2011 was about 16 times the size of the inmate population (735,601) at midyear 2011."

Surprisingly, the reduction does NOT stem from expanded diversion programs. Nationwide, 62,816 defendants were "supervised outside of a jail facility" at mid-year 2011, down from 72,852 at the same point in 2008.

Inmates held on immigration detainers were one of the few countervailing trends: ICE detainers accounted for 3.3% of local jail inmates in 2011 nationwide, compared to 1.7% in 2005 (the 21st century floor).

Exceeding the national trend, Texas jail populations have reduced 9.5% overall since 2008, according to the Commission on Jail Standards, with Harris and Bexar Counties registering especially significant declines. Grits compiled this data (which includes prisoners housed out of county) from TCJS reports from the last five Aprils:

By arbitrarily picking April as the measuring stick, these data likely understate Texas' true jail population decline since jail populations max out in the summer. According to press reports, e.g., Harris County's jail population topped out at more than 12,000, including out of county inmates.

I'm curious: Why do readers think jail population declines (and smaller reductions in the prison incarceration rate) took so long to materialize after crime began to go down 20 years ago? Does it have more to do with crime trends or how localities are processing cases pretrial (personal bonds, GPS monitoring, etc.)? Are recent reductions sustainable or a mere blip on the radar?

Grits' sense is that these reductions represent just the beginning of what's possible. IMO there's a lot more slack in the system to take up, and a lot more county budget savings to be had from jail population reductions if local officials - particularly those concerned with high taxes - will embrace the meme. 

See related, recent Grits posts:


Joe Aragon said...

I really liked this article and I hope it reaches many eyes. I imagine that it is the result of some rational thinking in affording those with lesser crimes like DWLI and Marijuana Possession getting personal bonds. I could not agree more with this as a sign that there is a lot of "slack in the system" that can be taken up, and should continue to be taken up.

Anonymous said...

Its about damn time!!!!! Those numbers need to keep falling!!!

Anonymous said...

number one reason - bookings are down dramatically. yet law enforcement budgets, jail budgets, and court budgets - have not followed this down trend.

Anonymous said...

In Smith County, the jail population is falling because the commissioners finally got their jail proposal through on the 4th try. They wore the voters down and the judges and prosecutors kept the jail stuffed. Now they want a new courthouse but are taking a short break. The school district wants another 100 million and the junior college wants 40 million as well. Those stingy taxpayers don't want to pay their fair share!

You can vote for small, limited conservative government all you want, you just can't GET it.

Kevin Stouwie said...

With jail populations down, I suspect that more people are being given lower (or P.R.) bonds. I wonder if anyone is going to be smart enough to notice that a guy who stays crime and drug free for months, or even a year or two, while on bond, probably makes a pretty good candidate for probation instead of shipping him off to TDCJ. Nah! That would be too logical.

Anonymous said...

In fact, most jail budgets are increasing as population goes down.
Go figure

Grandmom said...

This being true, that jail populations are falling, why in the world is Polunski overcrowded? Observations from inmates indicate that TDCJ needs the cells of death penalty inmates to house inmates from other prisons who are unruly and need solitary confinement. The Polunski prisoners are taken from their cells and placed on level based on trumped-up disciplinary accusations, or no disciplinary write-up at all. Leveling entails removing all belongings from the prisoner, access to commissary privileges, a reasonable diet, curtailing visitation and other tortures above and beyond the tortures endured in their regular cells. All levels and cells on DR are full. This injustice must stop. Remove the prisoners who are not death row from Polunski and allow the DR prisoners back in their cells.

Anonymous said...

Thank the following for the younger crowd not being sent to prison:
1. Cell Phones
2. Computers

This is keeping the young folks out of trouble!!

Also thank your local DA/CA they are not pushing cases!

Mamaw1 said...

Did anyone know that the closing of the one prison sent many inmates to other prisons? In one prison where there were supposed to be only so many beds, they moved in more bunks and crowded the inmates up. Didn't give them the appropriate space that they are supposed to have had, didn't add more water for the inmates, no extra fans for air.. I could go on. Now there are a lot of people that believe, like I used to, that the prisons are air conditioned and inmates are pampered. This is not the case in most Texas prisons. Texas does not like to parole people and fight it every step of the way.