Sunday, May 20, 2012

Louisiana: A rare state that looks enviously at Texas overincarceration

In its weeklong series, "Louisiana Incarcerated," the New Orleans Time-Picayune describes how Louisiana has overtaken Texas as the nation's incarceration leader, posting this graphic as evidence:

And here's a graphic describing two key reasons Texas' prison population has leveled off: Reduced probation and parole revocations.

Grits could offer a litany of other explanations, but those are biggies. See this admiring article about Texas' prison diversion reforms that led to these declines. There are only a handful of states that could look at Texas' incarceration rates and say "Wow, I wish we were that low." According to the Times-Picayune's data, Texas' incarceration rate (prisoners per 100,000 population) currently ranks fourth nationally, tied with Alabama behind Louisiana, Mississippi and Oklahoma. Call it the Incarceration Belt.

Another story in the series describes with admiration Harris County's brief dalliance with Bayou State lockups and how Harris ended it's use of Louisiana contract beds through de-incarceration reforms. The private prisons and their Louisiana county partners loved the set up, though it was costing Harris County a small fortune:
"We didn't have any problems," said LaSalle Warden Jeff Windham, a former chief deputy of the LaSalle Parish Sheriff's Office. "Everything went fine."

Until the end of last year, when it all abruptly ended. The relationship didn't end because of anything LaSalle did wrong. It ended because of something Harris County did right.

The jail population in Harris County had dropped 31 percent in three years, and Sheriff Adrian Garcia, elected in 2008, announced he wouldn't be sending prisoners to Louisiana anymore, not to Olla and not to its other partner, an even further-flung private prison, the West Carroll Detention Center some seven hours from Houston in Epps.

Between them, Olla and Epps -- the latter one of a half-dozen detention centers run by the Emerald Prison Enterprises, another Louisiana-based outfit with facilities in Texas, Arizona and New Mexico as well as Louisiana -- had held as many as 1,200 of their inmates at a time, according to Harris County. But by the end of 2011, the average daily population of the Harris County Jail, which had once climbed above 12,000, had fallen below its capacity of 9,434 to 8,573 inmates.

For Olla and Epps, the breakup was tough. "We'll recoup, but it hit us pretty hard when they left," Windham said.

But for Harris County, the outcome confirmed that innovative efforts to reduce its population and curb recidivism were paying off. "It's been more successful than we anticipated," Garcia said. And it showed what can happen when a jail's bottom line is to reduce occupancy, not maintain it. 
The reporters rightly give most of the credit where it's due:
The biggest single factor in the drop in the Harris County Jail population was a decision not by Garcia, a Democrat, but by District Attorney Pay Lykos, a Republican, who also was elected in 2008.

Beginning in January 2010, the Harris County district attorney's office stopped bringing felony charges against those arrested with crack pipes or other drug paraphernalia that contained trace amounts -- less than one-hundredth of a gram -- of drug residue, not even enough to allow the defense to do its own independent testing. That alone meant that on any given day, there were 400 fewer inmates in the jail.

Meanwhile, with roughly a quarter of the jail population exhibiting some kind of mental-health problem requiring psychotropic medication, the county created a crisis-intervention team to respond to police calls when mental illness seemed a likely part of the mix and treatment might be more appropriate than jail.

Garcia doubled the number of chaplains in the jail from 100 to 200, mostly volunteers, and instituted a new earned early-release program for nonviolent offenders actively participating in an educational or vocational program.
See also an interview with Dallas drug-court Judge John Creuzot accompanying the series.


A Texas PO said...

I have to wonder how much of Louisiana's incarceration woes are the result of dual sentences to probation and prison on the same charge at the same time. Several states have this very odd form of justice. I can just imagine what our incarceration numbers would look like if we followed this formula.

Getaclue said...

Incarceration belt! LMAO. Seems like a competition among the Confederate kingdoms as to who can rape, sack and pillage the liberty of their taxpayers and trounce the Constitution the most. Seems the Feds have written off the South.

In reality we are all officially committed. The police, prosecutors and judges are actually doctors testing our response to organized injustice. We the patients refuse to take organized action to defend ourselves in spite of the oppressive stimulus, vote and pay for this mistreatment. Thus we will remain committed here in these Confederate luny bins.

Anonymous said...

The south has always led the way in oppressing its citizens. Blacks were slaves, Indian removal; poor whites could not vote but could die for the rich planter class. General Sherman, who by the way could have cared less about slavery, once asked why would poor whites, who own no slaves die in the thousands for the rich. The answer could have been they were brain washed or promise something. The same thing could be said today, why do poor whites vote for Republican’s, because they thump the bible, brain wash them, and promise them the Tuff on Crime protection, in reality, they end up in prison side by side with Blacks, Indians and Hispanics. Amazing! When will the poor people wake up and smell the you know what? Our founding fathers who were not perfect by no means, border line atheist, but none trusted too much government, would be rolling over in their graves at what our elected leaders are doing today. Land of the free, I don’t think so, we lock up more people than in Iran, Russia and China. Police state is here and one day all the poor people who are not in prison will at least have been touch, or burnt by the prison system.

Anonymous said...

Along with the Sheriff and the DA, please credit the adult probation field, which has worked assiduously to lower felony technical revocations. The Harris County Adult Probation Department is capably led in this effort by Paul Becker, one of the more progressive chiefs in the state. The next legislative session will no doubt see another assault on funding for probation, which is actually saving money by keeping the prison population down.