Saturday, September 26, 2015

Texas prison population decline modest, however you measure it

At the Texas Tribune, Julie McCullough has an article titled "Dip in Texas prison population continues trend." In it, she uses numbers from the DOJ to say that:
the state's prison population fell by more than 2,200 inmates, or 1.3 percent, between 2013 and 2014, according to new data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. The decline was slightly larger than the national drop of one percent.
When 2014 ended, 166,043 prisoners were in TDCJ custody, the lowest number since 2002. It was the state's fourth largest annual decline in more than 35 years. (The largest drop came in 2012, when the population fell by nearly 6,000 prisoners from 2011.)
The small downward shift continues a trend that began in 2010, when the number of men and women held in Texas prisons peaked at 173,649.
Those numbers differ from those in TDCJ Annual Statistical Reports (available here).  Here are the annual TDCJ "on hand" population totals as of Aug. 31 from '08-'14:
2008: 156,126
2009: 155,076
2010: 154,795
2011: 156,522
2012: 152,303
2013: 150,784
2014: 150,361
Comparing these data to the chart in this post, one sees that the parole board reacted to the state's highest prison population of all time in 2011 by boosting the total number of prisoners released in 2012 by a whopping 9%. That was the year the Trib said witnessed the "largest annual decline in more than 35 years," according to federal data.

Bottom line: According to TDCJ, 2014's prisoner number was a .3% reduction from 2013 and about a 4% drop from the 2011 high. The feds say Texas recorded a 1.3% drop last year, and a 4.4% drop from our peak, which they place a year earlier than TDCJ does. Either way you look at it, these reductions remain on the low side, in the nanoreform range.

Grits has parsed the differences between TDCJ and DOJ numbers in detail in the past, for those interested. Bottom line, TDCJ is counting the number of prisoners "on hand" while the federal number counts prisoners based on their legal status at the time of custody, not whether they've formally entered the prison system or not. So, for example, a prisoner convicted in district court and sentenced to TDCJ may sit in the county jail for three or four weeks awaiting transfer. Texas counts her as a county jail inmate; the feds would consider her a state prisoner. These are differences in definitions. Neither is right nor wrong, they just count different things, as though one were measuring an object in yards and also in meters.

If Grits were a betting man, in the near term I'd expect a continued, modest decline, particularly among the state jail felony population, in part due to the adjustment for inflation of property crime thresholds and the creation of diligent participation credits for state jail inmates (see here and here), and in part because crime remains at historic lows. It's possible Texas could even close another unit or two.

Going much beyond that, however, will require additional legislation reforms and further state investments in treatment, supervision, and mental health services. Whether that will happen is anyone's guess. All one can say for sure is that it can't happen before 2017.


Peter.Marana said...

I have mentioned this before. Texas, when compared to the other 49 states, has an incarceration rate 45% higher. That's roughly 50,000 inmates at a cost of 41.25 billion. As Senator Whitmire said recently at the CJC hearing on jail standards that "it's a system" meaning police, prosecutors, judiciary, prison and the legislature.

Well that system is way over the top. I trust that the other 49 states are more normal. What is the point of wasting so much money and turning so many more into life time felons? I do know that the taxpayer dollars used to incarcerate the extra 50,000 would fund the hiring of 25,000 new teachers.

You hear about the "Texas miracle", is this what is meant? You do not change criminal justice policy anywhere overnight but the facts point to just window dressing so far in Texas.

Anonymous said...

Yes but some non violent offenders are worse than some violent offenders.. I was locked up so I know.. I think my opinion only ,is we need better parenting the problems arise from young men who have no respect for SAFP there was a divide in the offender population parolee s and older inmates on one side ,and probationers and young men on the other side. We lived together just didn't really mingle..

Bill Habern said...

Reducing the Texas prison population is a positive goal, however, the problems our law firm continues to receive inmate complaints about on a long term and consistent basis include failed medical services as administered on the units (if they can get to a hospital things are better), the abuses within the discipline system and how those abuses adversely can destroy an inmate's self efforts to attain rehabilitation, the issues that shortage of corrections officers bring to the daily life of an inmate (including use of force issues), and the family and offender frustration that is caused by the secrecy of the Texas parole system. These are but a few of the regular issues that deserve some attention from the administrative actions of the prison, parole board, and particularly the legislature.

Finally, and of growing concern is the issue that there is no meaningful legal assistance afforded prison inmates to protect them in their efforts to address constitutional violations of legal issues they face. These issues are just out of hand. The current inmate legal assistance program for indigent inmates at the prison is, based on my 40 plus years of observation (including being a prison public defender at one time) about as ineffective a program as I believe exists. How can a public inmate prison public defender service operate when the prison has control of that organization's pocket book and it's policy making power. Such an organization should be under the supervision of the State Bar or the a independently appointed legal commission. NOT THE PRISON.

Glad to see the population in decline, but I am concerned that we need to see more attention directed to the serious above issues that have for years been disregarded and continue to go without relief.

Bill Habern
Habern, O'Neil and Asso.
Houston-Huntsville, Texas

Anonymous said...

One of the problems is the Parole Board secrety when an inmate is bought up for parole. All inmates should have a chance to see the Parole Board in person when up for review, in order to challenge false charges, as other states do. Sometines the inmate records are inaccurate. Why not let them have their say when up for review?
I kmow for a fact some records and not updated about the inmates. The Parole Board need to be above level and make it clear they are making decisions fairly. Come on Texas, stand up and be open with the inmates, if not, this causes disbelief on them making their decisions. In the past inmates are being rubber stamped, with such as [ inmate continues to be a member gang related and shows no improvement}. Nonsense, there are records to show if a inmate is gang related and showing no record of trying to better themselves.This is a laughing stock. Texas is better than that!!!!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Habern, thank you for your post and the work you are doing. I experienced these very issues in trying to help a family member who suffers from a serious mental illness and was not receiving proper treatment. Her symptoms were ignored and she was not provided with appropriate treatment for probably close to a year. This person had not had any significant disciplinary actions for six years until she started experiencing paranoia, delusions, and symptoms of bipolar disorder (depression to mania). She had these symptoms prior to her incarceration and it was this illness that resulted in her incarceration. However, she had done very well for many years. The correctional officers failed to recognize that she was experiencing these symptoms and imposed disciplinary action against her. Once this happened, things just got worse. She and I both complained about the unfair disciplinary actions so they retaliated by giving her more cases. Each time we complained, she got a new case. This was a the Lane Murray unit. I personally spoke with the warden about the situation and she completely refused to even review the disciplinary actions. I really believe that the guards were in control and she was afraid of them.

I also wrote repeated letters and emails to the Ombudsman, the medial liason's office, the regional director, and the executive director. My concerns were virtually ignored. They would send me excerpts form the computer records saying she was seen by someone in the medical department. Interestingly, the info they sent showed that someone talked to her but that she was not being provided with any treatment. They were claiming simply the presence of these entries in the computer showed she was recieving adequate care when, in fact, they confirmed just the opposite.

After almost a year of letters and emails - with copies to the governor and other elected officials, she was finally moved to the Skyview Unit and actually got to see a psychiatrist for the first time. I have been impressed with the staff at Skyview but it shouldn't have taken so long to get her treatment. And the retaliation by correctional staff simply should not be tolerated. But, no one form the warden up to the executive director seemed the least bit concerned. The Ombudsman office was totally useless. There definitely needs to be some independent oversight of TDCJ.