Thursday, May 17, 2012

Texas parole rates rise since new year

Yesterday, Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman had a story on recently rising parole rates ("Parole rates surge to avoid unsupervised released," May 16, based on trends reported on Grits in April. His story opens:
Texas' parole rate for convicted felons has reached new highs in recent months, with the approval rate topping 40 percent this spring after hovering in the high 20s for several years.

The parole rate for violent sex offenders reached nearly 60 percent in March.

Officials say the higher parole rate is partly due to larger numbers of felons imprisoned in the past 20 years who are now reaching the end of their sentences, some meted out during the three-strikes-and-you're-out era of tough-on-crime laws enacted during the 1990s.

Officials are putting more of these convicts on parole to keep them under supervision and in treatment after they get out of prison, rather than have them walk out unsupervised.

The new numbers, obtained Tuesday by the American-Statesman, showed Texas' overall parole approval rates are the highest since September 2001, topping 40 percent in both February and March. The approval rate for April was just under 39 percent, the statistics show.
Here's a accompanying graphic demonstrating the short-term rise, which could be just a demographic blip:

Mike and I were notified of this story by the same source in an email last month, but he's added value to the subject by gathering more back-months of data and interviewing government officials and advocates who speculated on reasons for the recent rise (some of which was presaged in Grits' essay). It should be emphasized, though, that a few months increase doesn't necessarily indicate a long-term trend and there could be many reasons, some perfectly mundane, for the short-term spike.

The numbers, though, do give rise to cautious optimism. Two suggested reasons would likely improve public safety: The decision to release long-term inmates before their sentence is up so they'll be under supervision when they leave, and the Lege funding drug and alcohol treatment in prison, which in turn lets the parole board can condition release on completing it.

This must be welcome news to TDCJ bean counters fretting over budgets, who presently are straining to cover guard overtime and prisoner health costs under their reduced budget. Releasing older inmates serving long sentences, in particular, helps a ton with health care cots.

Texas' largest county jails have depopulated rapidly in the last couple of years. If this short-term parole trend elongates and the Lege continues to support front-end diversion programs, perhaps in the near future Texas will actually witness a smaller prison population as well.


Anonymous said...

Yay! Fewer criminals locked up means more criminals on the street! Haven't we seen this story before?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

6:01, you are clueless! Texas releases more prisoners every year already under Rick Perry (more than 70K per year) than were incarcerated en toto when Ann Richards was in office (a little over 40K).

Back here in reality where most of us have to live, most inmates don't stay in prison forever. Releasing and post-release reentry and supervision is an important part of TDCJ's job and too often undervalued by dismissive rhetoric like yours. People who think no one should be released seldom take the time to consider how to release people thoughtfully, but with as many people as TDCJ releases in the Perry era, the issue has to be discussed. The alternative is spending billions on prisons the state can't afford.

Anonymous said...

6:01, according to the Mike Ward article, "Officials are putting more of these convicts on parole to keep them under supervision and in treatment after they get out of prison, rather than have them walk out unsupervised."

Do you think we're safer releasing criminals under supervision or with no parole officer looking over their shoulder? Think, just for a second, before you write! Why wouldn't you want to release them a couple of years earlier so their reentry happens on parole?

DEWEY said...

Denying me parole six times and then releasing me one month before they had to did nothing to rehabilitate me. It only made me angry towards "the system". Fortunately I found ways to constructively channel my anger. Last month, I celebrated 23 years since my release. Thanks to everyone that gave me the moral support I needed.

Anonymous said...

what is the caseload per parole officer?

Scott,I am very skeptical of TDCJ's "supervision".

Retired 2004

Anonymous said...

Sounds like another form of "risk based funding" and a creative way to hang on to all the prison closure money?

Never known parole to send parolees to "programs." Thought they just reported, told "don't get arrested", and did piss tests.

But true, that is still better than nothing I guess.