Tuesday, May 01, 2018

Justice system controls fewer Texans than a decade ago, but more than in other large states

Here's some good news, but then a somewhat deflating context for it. Still, let's begin on a positive note: The justice system in Texas oversees a significantly lower proportion of its residents than just a decade ago.

I ran across an old Grits post citing a Pew analysis of 2008 data. Back then, one in 22 adults, or 4.56 percent of all Texas adults, were in prison, jail, on probation, or on parole - in other words, in some way under the control of the criminal-justice system.

Updating with 2018 data (see below), Grits calculates that the comparable numbers today are 2.43 percent of adults, with one in 41 adults under supervision of the justice system. So the supervision rate has fallen nearly by half! 

Texas is a more free place than it was a decade ago.

While this is good news and should be appreciated, this is no time to break out the party hats. There's a tendency among Texans to embrace every bit of good #cjreform news with revelry and saturnalia, frequently declaring whatever we've done should be considered a "national model." 

This ain't that.

Texas still has the largest prison system of any American state. Moreover, our incarceration rates remain extraordinarily high compared to other states, particularly the other, most populous ones. California's per-capita imprisonment rate is 58 percent of Texas', for example, and we'd need to reduce our incarceration rate another 20 percent just to reach the national average (far more to reach the median).

Compared to where Texas was a decade ago, things look pretty good. Compared to other large states, we have significantly more incarceration and a greater percentage of our population under supervision by the government. And, despite our relative "tuffness," we still have more crime, too.

So things are better, but still not great. Indeed, most of the gains seem attributable to larger, national (probably international) trends from which Texas has received less benefit than other jurisdictions. There remains a lot of room for improvement.

(Sourcing for Texas' 2018 supervision-rate estimate: Three of the four datapoints for the numerator in the 2.43 percent number are listed on page 3 of this recent legislative handout. The fourth, county jail populations, may be discovered here. For population, I used official state projections for 2018 totals, estimating the percentage of adults from 2017 data.)

1 comment:

Steven Michael Seys said...

There seems to be a correlation between tough on crime politics and tough to change criminals. Would you look into this for the rest of us, Scott?