October 05

    Turns out Drug War did contribute significantly to Mass Incarceration

    A new quantitative analysis with cool graphical representations, to me, puts the final nails in the coffin of some of the interesting-but-problematic theories being touted in the past couple of years by Fordham law professor John Pfaff.

    When Pfaff began promoting his revisionist counter-narratives on the causes of mass incarceration, it took Grits a while to figure out what was wrong with his analysis. But by the time his book was published, I was able to articulate it in this review, rebutting the trends he claimed to spot using Texas data. Now, we have a national analysis showing the same problems with Pfaff's suppositions, exposing flaws with his recommendations for reform.

    Pfaff basically staked out two claims that he believed debunked the approach most experienced reformers were taking toward reducing incarceration: He believed the drug war is an insignificant contributor to mass incarceration, mocking Michelle Alexander and other critics who had claimed the drug war was central to its rise. And he poo pooed the effects of increased sentence lengths, pointing out that average sentence lengths were going down.

    These were obfuscations, in the end, and both wrong. It turned out, growth in very long sentences for one group in particular - murderers and other serious violent offenders - contributed significantly to mass incarceration. By looking at averages, pooling a small number of violent offenders with large numbers of nonviolent ones, most of whom had relatively short sentences, Pfaff's analysis masked variation by offense.

    The above-linked analysis used a neat graphical trick to show Pfaff was wrong to belittle the drug war's contributions to mass incarceration. The author depicted incarceration with graphic rectangles, using the number of prison admissions as the height and length of stay in years as the width. Viewed thusly, it's easy to see that the drug war was a big (but not the only) contributor:

    As the author describes it: "Most of the vertical growth — the growth in admissions — was in “public order/other” and “drug” offenses ... But those offenses apparently had short prison terms that didn’t get much longer, so they didn’t contribute as much to area growth — the growth in the incarceration rate."

    That's exactly right. Corrections data are dynamic and dependent. You cannot look at any one trend in isolation, ever, which is why Chicken Little reactions to one or two years of increasing murder rates are generally misplaced. There are multiple causes of mass incarceration, and two of them are 1) increased nonviolent prison admissions and 2) increased sentence lengths for violent offenders, especially super-long sentences for murderers, which have contributed to the growth in prison units that look more like geriatric wards.

    Certainly, there were portions of Pfaff's analysis Grits found useful. I've praised his suggestion for a cap and trade proposal. And his call for the feds to pick up costs for local indigent defense was spot on. (Texas counties complain rising indigent defense costs are an unfunded mandate from the state, but really they're an unfunded mandate from the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution.)

    Further, Pfaff's observations about prosecutors' contributions to mass incarceration - doubling the number of convictions per arrest as the number of crimes and arrests declined - hold true for Texas as well and is an important contribution to our understanding of mass incarceration. (This blog had revealed a similar pattern among Texas prosecutors back in 2013.) But it does not then follow, as Pfaff's book suggests, that the only viable reform approach must focus primarily on prosecutors. Because of the diffuse structure of the justice system, reformers don't have leverage points which can affect their discretion in that way.

    That's why, as I'd said in Grits' review, "one can follow Prof. Pfaff's logic all the way to the end and, while much of it is thought provoking, still find it to be of little use to reformers seeking change on the front lines in the states, which is where he rightly insists the real action of criminal-justice reform takes place." Rather, "at the end of the day, he's just wrong about where the American criminal-justice reform movement should focus and why." We must confront the problem of too-long sentences. And we must roll back the drug war.



    Incarceration Rates and Crime: A counter-intuitive relationship

    The lock-em-up logic of mass incarceration holds that prison expansion keeps more criminals off the street and therefore reduces crime. But that's an hypothesis, not a fact. Luckily, differing incarceration policies among states in recent years have supplied a natural experiment to test the theory, which turns out to be full of holes. In fact, a new analysis from Pew analyzing the state-by-state data found that jurisdictions which reduced incarceration most saw higher drops in crime rates.

    Crime has declined across the western world and throughout the United States since the 1990s, but at the state level there have been variations. From 2010 to 2015, according to Pew, 35 states saw reductions in incarceration rates while 44 states saw reductions in violent and property crime.

    Digging more deeply, the states which reduced incarceration most saw higher crime reductions. "In the 10 states with the largest imprisonment declines, the crime rate fell an average of 14.4 percent, compared with 8.1 percent in the 10 states with the biggest growth in imprisonment."

    Of the 10 states with the largest imprisonment reduction, Texas' rate remained by far the highest. Still, Texas' imprisonment rate declined 12.9 percent from 2010 to 2015, emblemized by the closure of three prison units, while our crime rate declined 23.3 percent.

    Pew offered this understated conclusion: "The lack of a consistent relationship between the crime and imprisonment trends reinforces the findings of the National Research Council and others that the imprisonment rate in many states and the nation as a whole has long since passed the point of diminishing public safety returns." Grits would put the lesson from their research more plainly: The evidence shows incarcerating fewer people does not correlate with increased crime and in fact, correlates more strongly with larger crime reductions.



    Aug. 24

    The new phone books TDCJ Statistical Reports are here

    Notably, the report recorded TDCJ housing 148,146 prisoners as of Aug. 31, 2015, down more than 2,000 from the prior year and down 8,000 since 2011, when the inmate population totaled 156,522. That's low enough to close at least one more prison unit to help with budget savings.

    The annual statistical report gives data on prisons, state jails, probation, and parole for FY 2015, which ended Aug. 31 of last year. So I fail to understand why it takes nearly 12 months to produce this publication. Doing it that way means policy makers must rely on information that's at-a-minimum one-year old, when really TDCJ tracks all these data more or less in real time.

    Now that TDCJ is under new management, they should work on getting this document out much quicker in the future.

    Read The TDCJ Statistical Reports HERE.


    How Incarceration Infects a Community

    March 6th

    Disease-based models help researchers understand how prison-admission rates are linked to the health of a neighborhood.

    Residents of neighborhoods with high incarceration rates endure disproportionate stress, since these communities face disrupted social and family networks alongside elevated rates of crime and infectious diseases.

    However, only recently have researchers considered how incarceration rate might serve as an ecological variable, rather than just as a something that shapes individual behavior. A new article in the American Journal of Public Health evokes environmental-health research by treating incarceration as a toxin. A team led by Mark Hatzenbuehler of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health examines how higher than average “exposure” might impact community well-being in less direct ways.

    Read More HERE.

    February 16, 2015

    How Poverty And Mental Illness Are Putting More People Behind Bars

    More Americans than ever before are spending time in jail despite a drop in the crime rate in the past two decades. That's according to a new report that also found that a disproportionate number of people in jail suffer from mental illness. Judy Woodruff discusses the findings with Nicholas Turner of the Vera Institute of Justice and Margo Schlanger of the University of Michigan.

    Read More HERE


    Chart: More Prison Doesn’t Mean Less Crime

    Updated by German Lopez
    September 13, 2014

    Twenty years ago today, President Bill Clinton signed a massive anti-crime bill that put more Americans in prison.

    But two decades later, an analysis from Pew Charitable Trusts found the states that reduced their incarceration rates actually saw bigger crime drops. That doesn't mean less imprisonment leads to less crime. But the findings show there's no credible correlation, and it gives more credence to previous research that found higher threats of incarceration don't actually deter criminal activity.

    Check out Pew's findings in the infographic below:

    Chart: More Prison Doesn’t Mean Less Crime

    JULY 05

    LBB: Texas Prisons Won't Fill Up As Quickly As Thought

    The Texas Legislative Budget Board's New Adult and Juvenile Prison Population Projections (pdf) are out and the good news is the bad news has been retracted.

    Altering its earlier estimate that Texas' prisons would run short of capacity by the end of the decade, the Legislative Budget Board now says that "adult state incarcerated populations are projected to remain stable throughout fiscal years 2014 to 2019 and to remain, on average, 0.6 percent below TDCJ’s internal operating capacity."

    Wading through the bureaucratese, this is remarkable news: Despite Texas' rapid population growth in recent years, both adult and (especially) juvenile arrest totals have been declining, LBB noted. Indeed, adult arrests declined in all categories except drug offenses, which increased over the period depicted (p.5). Going forward, "The slight projected increase in the [prison] population is primarily driven by a projected 1.1 percent increase in admissions and a slight slowing of parole and discretionary mandatory supervision (DMS) case considerations and approvals."

    So, if the state enacts policies that cause admissions to decline, or for that matter if parole rates remain stable, Texas could have more excess capacity going forward, even, than these cautious LBB projections would have it. Implementing just a handful of de-incarceration polices would let the state shut down even more prison units and shift resources toward prison healthcare and treatment programming.


    JUNE 22, 2014

    US Incarceration Rate World's Highest; Texas, Southern States Leading The Pack.

    If one were to rank U.S. states as independent nations, Texas would have the fifth highest incarceration rate worldwide (i.e., the number of people incarcerated per 100,000 population), behind Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Georgia, reported the Prison Policy Project in a remarkable chart. (H/T: Sentencing Law and Policy.)

    Of course, Texas is so much larger than those other states that our prison population numbers greater than the combined total of the four states above us on the list (calculated based on prison population estimates here). Texas has the largest prison population of any individual U.S. state - higher even than California which has a much larger free-world population.

    Ranked thusly, other nations don't even come into the incarceration picture until way down the list, beginning with Cuba, Rwanda, Russian Federation, and El Salvador. Choice company, eh?

    Here's another remarkable graphic from their research:


      SEPTEMBER 25, 2013

      Comparing Incarceration Levels in America's Four Most Populous States (2012)

      Texas / California / Florida / New York
      State Pop (2012)
      26,059,203 / 38,041,430 / 19,317,568 / 19,570,261
      Prison Pop (2012)
      166,372 / 134,534 / 101,930 / 54,210
      Ratio: State prisoners per 100,000 population
      638.4 / 353.7 / 527.7 / 277.0

      SEPTEMBER 10, 2013

      On The Differences Between DOJ And TDCJ Prison Population Totals For Texas, And The Next Big Task

      It turned out a number of national-level advocates were interested in a question raised as a footnote in a post titled, "If Texas' justice reforms were so great, why does the state still have the nation's largest prison system?" When you ask TDCJ how many people are incarcerated in prisons and state jails, they'point you to the 2012 Statistical Report (pdf) which informs us that there were 152,303 prisoners in Texas prisons, state jails and SAFP treatment facilities as of Aug. 31, 2012. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, though, Texas had 166,372 state prisoners in 2012, or 14,069 more than TDCJ's oft-quoted numbers.

      Looking at TDCJ's figures regarding who is in Texas prisons and state jails, the prison population dropped by several thousand in recent years, enough to close three prison units over the last two sessions and leave enough extra beds to consider closing a fourth. But throughout this period, the BJS reporting on Texas incarceration levels remained stubbornly high, only falling finally in this most recent 2012 report.

      "Which is right?" several people have asked me, including from a couple of different national groups. Having now looked into it more than I really cared to and crunching a few numbers, IMO, "Both," is the correct answer. The question boils down to the definitions underlying the two numbers. When Marc Levin, Jerry Madden or Grits cite numbers in the 150,000s for Texas' prison population, what we're quoting are TDCJ reports on the number of people actually, presently incarcerated in one of Texas' 109 prisons and state jails. Secure probation and parole facilities are reported in the same document but broken out separately.

      County jail data are reported to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards which publishes monthly reports.*

      The federal number, though, is attempting to get to an apples-to-apples number they can apply across states. They count prisoners based on their legal status at the time of custody, not whether they've formally entered the prison system or not. Instead, the BJS report says in a footnote that, "Jurisdiction refers to the legal authority of state or federal correctional officials over a prisoner, regardless of where the prisoner is held" (emphasis added.).

      Looking at Texas' data in that light, there are two main categories of prisoners in secure lockups who are formally state prisoners but not counted in TDCJ's incarceration totals: State prisoners in county jails and parolees in treatment facilities or Intermediate Sanction Facilities but who have not had their supervision formally revoked.

      So, let's look at those numbers.

      The reporting dates won't be apples-to-apples, but close.
      As of Aug. 31, 2013, here are the statewide totals, by my count, of state prisoners in county jails:
      Convicted felons in jail awaiting transfer: 4,769
      Convicted state jail felons awaiting transfer: 1,186
      Parole violators (technical): 2,170
      Parole violators (new crime): 2,810
      Convicted SJF, sentenced to county jail time: 823
      Total: 11,762, or 17.5% of Texas' 67, 096 county jail prisoners
      Now, let's look at TDCJ's most recent statistical report, which provided numbers as of Aug. 31, 2012 (the new one is due out soon).
      Here are the categories Grits identified as fitting the BJS definition:
      Intermediate Sanctions Facilities: 1,831
      Parolees in SAFP treatment programs: 318
      Total: 2,149

      Adding those to the county jail numbers, one gets 13,111. The difference between the DOJ's number and TDCJ's for 2012 was 14,069. So that explains most of the difference and the rest may be accounted for by the disjointed dates and/or some other small category of state prisoners BJS counted that I didn't spot with a cursory glance.

      Bottom line: Marc Levin is right that there are fewer people locked up in Texas prisons and state jails. And I suspect even he would acknowledge that the greater credit for those reductions goes to the parole board than the 2007 probation reforms. Rissie Owens and Co. have inched up parole rates by a few points and it made a huge difference. Meanwhile, some of the national advocates (even if motivated perhaps in part by jealousy - same reason everybody loves to hate the Dallas Cowboys!), have just cause to scoff at claims of de-incarceraton based on federal data. For that matter, even using TDCJ's lower number, we still have more people incarcerated in Texas than California did even before its recent court-ordered reduction.

      Texas has done most of what it can on the supervision side to reduce revocations. (Probation revocation rates remain stubbornly high but have improved greatly for parole.) The next step for Texas has to be actual sentencing reform, adjusting penalty categories for nonviolent drug and property offenders to make room for violent prisoners being held on extremely long sentences.

      That's the biggest reason why the Texas Legislature balked at doing more for the last three sessions following the 2007 probation reforms. The obvious, next steps they need to do are really hard and small-government conservatives, especially after Jerry Madden's departure from the House, have been unable to muster the political capital necessary to get the job done. IMO the votes are there on the House side in particular to support pretty significant reforms if the leadership would ever let the bills get to the floor. The House Calendars Committee has become a graveyard for reform legislation, with Speaker Joe Straus, like his predecessor Tom Craddick, largely shielding the membership from voting on most of the promising bills that get out of committee.

      For example, by my count there have been sufficient votes on the floor of the Texas House to pass a bill reducing low-level marijuana possession from a Class B to a Class C ticket-only offense ever since the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee first unanimously voted such a bill out of committee in 2005. This year that committee passed a bill lowering penalties for defendants under 21, which also stalled in Calendars. Under both Speakers Cradddick and Straus, the Calendars Committee has consistently refused to let such legislation onto the floor. In retrospect it was a miracle (spurred by pragmatism: they couldn't afford to build new prisons) that the 2007 probation reforms ever got a vote.

      FWIW, my sense is that Texas' prison population will go a little lower, still, on its current trajectory, so long as the parole board's approval rates don't decline again. I suspect we can even close one or two more prisons. But even with the pleasing contribution of a continued falling crime rate, Texas' too-high sentencing categories for the most common nonviolent offenses must change before state government's incarceration footprint can be reduced very much further. That's the next, big task.

      * Note to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards: Please put your old monthly reports online in an archive!!



      Opinion: Amid Gridlock, A Surprising Accord On Drug-Law Sentencing

      By Juan Williams

      Reporters missed a story earlier this month when Attorney General Eric Holder announced new guidelines for his federal prosecutors in handling non-violent drug crimes.

      Holder said President Obama plans to “reach out to members of Congress from both parties” to begin work on legislation to revise federal mandatory sentencing rules for people convicted of non-violent drug crimes.

      “We’ve seen that this approach has bipartisan support in Congress where a number of leaders, including Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) have introduced what I think is promising legislation aimed at giving federal judges more discretion in applying mandatory minimums to certain drug offenses,” Holder said.

      “The president and I look forward to working with members of both parties to refine and advance these proposals,” Holder told the American Bar Association’s annual meeting on August 12.

      In this era of deep political paralysis on Capitol Hill it should have been headline news that legislation revising sentencing guidelines for drug convicts is miraculously bringing together conservatives and liberals, even Tea Party conservatives and Obama.

      Immigration reform, budget deals and agreement on raising the debt ceiling are at the top of the agenda when Congress returns to Washington after Labor Day. But sentencing reform, unlike those hot button issues, is not a major public concern, according to polls. It is — at least at the moment — not politically explosive.

      Conservatives, including Republicans such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who regularly use tough rhetoric about punishing criminals, have already signed on to the essence of what Holder and Obama want to see in congressional legislation.

      Even hardline conservative lobbying groups seem to be on board: “It’s a step in the right direction, though about five years too late,” said Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, in an interview with Time magazine.

      My Fox News colleague, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a strong conservative Republican, proclaimed on Twitter: “Finally found something I can agree with Eric Holder on — sentencing too many people to prison for non-violent drug crimes.”

      The goal is to reduce the nation’s record prison population, now 40 percent over capacity. Conservatives as well as the president and attorney general are amazingly close to agreeing on the need to permanently revise thinking born during the crack epidemic of the 1980s that still has federal prosecutors asking for heavy mandatory sentences in 60 percent of cases involving any kind of illegal drugs.

      According to one report, more than 90 percent of the convicts are not drug kingpins but simply drug users or small-time peddlers involved only in drug-related crime.

      As Holder noted in his speech, the U.S. population has grown by a third since 1980 while the nation’s prison population has increased an astounding 800 percent.

      Much of the legislative framework for congressional action on lower federal sentences and alternative drug treatment programs is already in place.

      Durbin and Lee, Democrat and Republican, have introduced a bill — “The Smarter Sentencing Act” — to revise the fixed sentencing guidelines for non-violent drug offenders. Leahy and Paul, another pairing across political lines, have introduced a similar bill — the “Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013” — which gives judges more discretion to break away from the current mandatory sentencing guidelines. This bill has already won bipartisan House endorsements.

      After Holder’s speech, Paul seemed to indicate the administration is following his conservative, libertarian lead in wrapping its arms around the idea of reducing prison sentences and cutting the cost that comes with housing so many prisoners.

      “I am encouraged that the president and the attorney general agree with me that mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders promote injustice and do not serve public safety,” Paul said.

      In fact, Paul’s home state, Kentucky, as well as other GOP strongholds, including Arkansas and Texas, have already put in place programs to explore the impact of lesser drug sentences.

      In Kentucky, as Holder told the ABA, the prison population is being reduced by an estimated 3,000 inmates over the next decade, which will net savings of $400 million.

      Texas, Holder said, has reduced its prison population by 5,000 in the last year with new approaches to drug treatment and parole.

      Arkansas cut 1400 prisoners with a similar plan.

      “Clearly these strategies work,” Holder said. “They’ve attracted overwhelming, bipartisan support in ‘red states’ as well as ‘blue states.’ And it is past time for others to take notice.”

      Jennifer Palmieri, the White House communications director, confirmed to me Holder’s announcement that the president’s fall agenda will include meeting “with folks in Congress who are pursuing legislation as well as governors and mayors who have done innovative work on this issue.”

      The president’s personal attention to the issue could spark some conservative opposition because of their personal antipathy to him.

      But with existing support for the idea among Republicans on the Hill and in statehouses nationwide there is also a chance that a White House push on sentencing reform will raise public awareness, generate public support and gain the votes in Congress needed to enact potentially historic changes to 1980s sentencing laws that came out of the “War on Drugs.”

      With the president and a line-up of his usual antagonists behind the same bill, the momentum for sentencing reform could be unstoppable. The result will be one of the biggest surprises of all the years of the Obama presidency — a bipartisan success in passing new laws to reduce the nation’s prison population.

      Opinion: Amid Gridlock, A Surprising Accord On Drug-Law Sentencing

      The Conservative Case Against More Prisons

      Higher incarceration rates aren't making us safer—and there are better, smaller-government alternatives.

      • March 6, 2013

      Since the 1980s, the United States has built prisons at a furious pace, and America now has the highest incarceration rate in the developed world. 716 out of every 100,000 Americans are behind bars. By comparison, in England and Wales, only 149 out of every 100,000 people are incarcerated. In Australia—famously founded as a prison colony—the number is 130. In Canada, the number is 114.

      Prisons, of course, are necessary. In The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne observed that “The founders of a new colony, whatever Utopia of human virtue and happiness they might originally project, have invariably recognized it among their earliest practical necessities to allot a portion of the virgin soil… as the site of a prison.” As long as there are people, there will be conflict and crime, and there will be prisons. Prisons, however, are not a source of pride. An unusually high number of prison cells signals a society with too much crime, too much punishment, or both.

      There are other ways to hold offenders—particularly nonviolent ones—accountable. These alternatives when properly implemented can lead to greater public safety and increase the likelihood that victims of crime will receive restitution. The alternatives are also less costly. Prisons are expensive (in some states, the cost of incarcerating an inmate for one year approaches $60,000), and just as policymakers should scrutinize government expenditures on social programs and demand accountability, they should do the same when it comes to prison spending. None of this means making excuses for criminal behavior; it simply means “thinking outside the cell” when it comes to punishment and accountability.

      This argument is increasingly made by prominent conservatives. Bill Bennett, Jeb Bush, Newt Gingrich, Ed Meese, and Grover Norquist have all signed the Statement of Principles of Right On Crime, a campaign that advocates a position on criminal justice that is more rooted in limited-government principles. They are joined as signatories by the conservative criminologist John Dilulio and by George Kelling, who helped usher in New York City’s successful data-driven policing efforts under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Some groups, like Prison Fellowship Ministries, approach the issue from a socially conservative perspective. Others, like the American Legislative Exchange Council and the State Policy Network, have fiscal concerns top of mind. Regardless, a sea change is underway in sentencing and corrections policy, and conservatives are leading it.

      *Between 1992 and 2011, the U.S. prison population increased by nearly 73 percent. To the extent that the recent rise in incarceration incapacitated violent offenders, it was valuable. For nonviolent offenders who are not career criminals, however, incarceration can be counterproductive. As is sometimes said, prisons are graduate schools for crime. This is more than apparent in numerous states where recidivism rates exceed 60 percent.

      Unnecessary incarceration of nonviolent, low-level offenders also destroys families. Mitch Pearlstein at Minnesota’s Center of the American Experiment has pointed out that incarcerated men “are less attractive marriage partners, not just because they may be incarcerated, but because rap sheets are not conducive to good-paying, family-supporting jobs.” It is common sense that neighborhoods suffering from high incarceration rates also suffer a plague of single-parent homes and troubled children.

      This, in turn, leads to dysfunctional communities that are mistrustful of law enforcement. Most American children are taught that they may always ask the police for help. In some American neighborhoods, however, children are taught never to engage with the police.

      For this—high recidivism rates, ravaged families, and maladjusted neighborhoods—Americans pay dearly. In 2011, Americans spent over $63 billion on corrections, a 300 percent increase since 1980. Prisons are the second-fastest growing component of state budgets, trailing only Medicaid.

      This might be acceptable if evidence indicated that growing incarceration rates made Americans substantially safer. That is not the case, however. Because more incarceration incapacitates more people, increasing incarceration can indeed lower crime, but it can also reach a point of diminishing returns where spending the next dollar on better law enforcement or probation reduces more crime than spending it on incarceration.

      Consider the recent drop in crime rates. Although a general rise in incarceration over the last few decades has partly coincided with a nationwide crime decline, evidence in recent years calls into question the extent of the correlation and whether we have reached or exceeded that point of diminishing returns. From 1998-2007, crime rates fell in 48 states. Incarceration rates increased in 40 of the states, and they decreased in eight. Increased incarceration could not have been responsible for crime falling in the eight states that reduced incarceration. To criminologists, the bottom line is that once incarceration reaches a level necessary to incapacitate dangerous and violent offenders, it is hard to posit a clear correlation between further increases in incarceration rates and reductions in crime.

      Most criminologists believe that America’s costly increase in incarceration over the last several decades is responsible for about 25 to 30 percent of the drop in the national crime rate. The rest is attributed to a variety of factors hotly debated among social scientists. These include demographic changes (moves to the suburbs and the aging of the population), improved law enforcement strategies such as COMPStat and “broken windows” policing, and even reduced levels of lead in household products.

      In short, some of the increase in incarceration was necessary, but the pendulum may have swung too far.

      *From the 1960s through the early 1990s, crime was perhaps the dominant issue in American domestic politics. Bernie Goetz, an armed citizen who shot four subway muggers in 1984, became a vigilante icon. The 1988 presidential election was arguably over after Michael Dukakis responded haplessly to George Bush’s “Willie Horton ad,” which identified a Massachusetts felon serving life in prison who committed armed robbery and rape on a weekend furlough. In 1990, a story in Time was titled “The Rotting of the Big Apple,” and the cover ruefully depicted the muggings, robberies, and murders for which New York City had become notorious.

      Academics like James Q. Wilson and Steven Pinker have suggested that abrupt changes in cultural norms sparked in the 1960s may have caused the increase in crime during this period. Whether cultural liberalism caused the problem is debatable. What is not debatable is that cultural liberalism did everything it could to ignore the problem. Many liberals averred that crime stemmed from social problems like poverty and racism, and for this reason, law-enforcement responses were pointless. Sometimes the liberal attitude was downright silly. Norman Mailer suggested that graffiti—which is nothing more than the vandalism of someone else’s property—was actually academic commentary on architecture.

      Conservatives put their foot down and insisted on more incarceration: build new prisons, increase sentence lengths, and enact truth-in-sentencing laws to limit parole. As the argument gained steam, liberals fretted about appearing “soft on crime” in elections, and in due course increasing incarceration became a bipartisan cause.

      *Governor Ann Richards, a Democrat, built a bevy of new prisons across Texas, and Willie Horton’s name was actually floated by Al Gore in the 1988 Democratic primary long before Bush ever raised it.

      Predictably, labor unions interested in maximizing the number of jobs for corrections officers also joined in the cause. The most notorious mandatory minimum law in the country, California’s “Three Strikes,” was supported by California’s powerful prison-guard unions. Unsurprisingly, California’s prisons were 180 percent above capacity in 2011 when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a federal court order mandating that the state release prisoners to alleviate severe overcrowding.

      With the tremendous support behind increased incarceration, prison building went too far. The U.S. needed to incarcerate more people, and it did. Now, however, we are incarcerating too many people and seeing diminishing returns. Alternative sanctions for many nonviolent offenders would be less costly, less destructive to families and individuals, and most importantly more effective at ensuring public safety.

      *Serendipitously, developments in research and technology have produced new strategies such as electronic monitoring, problem-solving courts, and actuarial risk and needs assessments that can better match offenders with the right level and type of community supervision.

      One promising practice is the Hawaii HOPE Court which uses swift, sure, and commensurate sanctions to promote compliance with drug tests and the terms of probation. In the HOPE Court, the judge informs a drug offender that he will be assigned a color and that he must call the court daily to see whether the color has been randomly selected. If so, the offender must report to the court and pass a drug test. Should he fail the test, he spends a short, but immediate, stint in jail—often just a weekend.

      HOPE has led to a two-thirds decline in substance abuse and probation failures in Hawaii. It works because swift and certain sanctions are more effective than severe sanctions that come only after multiple probation violations have been ignored. Cesare Beccaria, an 18th-century criminologist made this argument in a 1764 treatise. But an academic treatise is hardly necessary to understand why HOPE works. A parent appreciates the importance of swift and certain sanctions just as well as a professor. HOPE began in Hawaii, but HOPE-style courts are sprouting across the country, and HOPE has become a cause célèbre among conservative reformers.

      Texas, in many regards, is the model for how conservatives have led a transformation in corrections. In 2007, Austin number-crunchers projected that over 17,000 new prison beds, at a cost of $2 billion to taxpayers, would need to be built in Texas by 2012. Legislators refused to spend the money and instead allocated a smaller amount to expand community-based options such as probation, problem-solving courts, and evidence-based drug treatment. Since Texas shifted to these alternatives in 2007, crime has dropped by 25 percent and the 17,000 prison beds are no longer needed. In 2011, Texas actually closed a prison. As it enters the 2013 legislative session, Texas correctional facilities are an additional 4,500 beds below capacity, and legislators are talking about closing two additional facilities.

      The leader of this revolution in the Republican-controlled Texas House of Representatives was Jerry Madden, a businessman from north of Dallas who says that prisons ought to be prioritized for the people “we’re afraid of, [not] the ones we’re mad at.” Governor Rick Perry signed these reform-oriented budgets and legislation into law. Perry says that he “believe[s] we can take an approach to crime that is both tough and smart…focus[ing] more resources on rehabilitating [nonviolent] offenders so we can ultimately spend less money locking them up again.”

      Texas is just the beginning.

      In 2012, Georgia, under Republican Governor Nathan Deal, passed the nation’s most sweeping corrections reform bill. Deal has shown a particular interest in rehabilitating drug offenders, and he has framed his arguments in recognizably conservative language on taxes: “If we fail to treat the addict’s drug addiction, we haven’t taken the first step in breaking the cycle of crime—a cycle that destroys lives and wastes taxpayer resources.”

      In Louisiana, Governor Bobby Jindal has promised that his state will “hammer away at the dubious distinction of [having] the highest incarceration rate in the world.” In February, he presented legislators with a proposal that strengthens the incentives for drug offenders to complete rehabilitation programs.

      Other states that have enacted major reforms led by Republican governors include Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and South Dakota.

      Some states have taken a performance-oriented approach that creates a fiscal incentive to achieve better outcomes for public safety, victims, and taxpayers.

      Arizona instituted a policy in 2008 that allowed a portion of state savings from reduced incarceration to be redirected to counties—if the counties pursued policies that diverted offenders from prison, reduced recidivism among those on probation, and ensured that offenders paid restitution to victims. This incentive-funding plan enabled local jurisdictions to implement proven practices for better supervising those on probation, including addressing substance abuse and mental illness. (Around 350,000 inmates in American prisons and jails are mentally ill.) In the first three years after this incentive approach was instituted, the rate at which Arizona’s probationers were revoked to prison fell 38 percent and the number of new felony convictions among its felony probationers dropped 41 percent.

      Similar incentive-funding approaches in juvenile justice have been successful in reducing crime and overall costs in Ohio and Texas. For conservatives who have long emphasized that incentives affect the behavior of individuals and systems, the success of these policies is unsurprising.

      Perhaps the key indicator of conservative enthusiasm for criminal-justice reform is the robust language in the 2012 Republican platform: “Government at all levels should work with faith-based institutions that have proven track records in diverting young and first time, non-violent offenders from criminal careers, for which we salute them. Their emphasis on restorative justice, to make the victim whole and put the offender on the right path, can give law enforcement the flexibility it needs in dealing with different levels of criminal behavior. We endorse State and local initiatives that are trying new approaches to curbing drug abuse and diverting first-time offenders to rehabilitation.”

      *After the 2012 election debacle, the consensus among conservatives for moving forward seems quixotic: develop new policy prescriptions but without compromising foundational principles. Criminal justice reform, however, is perfectly suited for the mission. The model for conservative criminal justice—less spending, better results, accountability, and greater reliance on faith, family, and community rather than central government—is really the model conservatives should be applying to all issues.

      Vikrant P. Reddy and Marc A. Levin are senior policy advisers to the Right on Crime campaign in Austin, Texas.

      The Conservative Case Against More Prisons

      Business Association Launches Criminal Justice Agenda

      • By Brandi Grissom
      • January 29, 2013

      Bill Hammond; Texas Association of Business

      For years, criminal justice reform advocates cajoled Bill Hammond, the executive director of the Texas Association of Business, to get on board with their efforts to reduce the prison population and keep ex-offenders from re-offending.

      TAB, the state’s largest business lobby and a powerhouse at the state Capitol, would support a bill or two, like a 2011 measure that would have eliminated the employment address listing for people on the sex offender registry. But this legislative session is the first time that the business lobby specifically put criminal justice issues on its legislative agenda.

      TAB says it will support "criminal justice reforms from previous legislative sessions and enhance ongoing efforts to improve public safety, reduce the rate of recidivism, and decrease prison costs. Such reforms include, but are not limited to, finding cost-effective alternatives to incarceration through the implementation of enhanced probation programs.”

      “This time around, we will be much more detailed and involved,” Hammond said, adding that the business community wants to find ways to decrease the prison population to both save taxpayer money and to increase the number of workers available to fill the state’s growing workforce needs.

      Hammond said a TAB board member, Penny Rayfield, convinced the association that businesses should become involved in criminal justice reform efforts. Rayfield is president ofOnShore Resources, a manufacturing company that has operations on prison property and trains and hires inmates who choose to participate in the Prison Industry Enhancement Certification Program.

      “People coming out of prison need jobs. Businesses need qualified employees. And by supporting policies that will help us accomplish those goals, it’s good business and it’s good use of taxpayer dollars,” Rayfield said.

      Marc Levin, director of the Texas Public Policy Foundation's Center for Effective Justice, said TAB recognized that money spent on locking up nonviolent offenders who could benefit from probation or drug treatment, could better be spent on other priorities like education, transportation or potential tax relief. And the more people who aren’t in prison who can become productive workers, the better chance businesses will have to find qualified employees.

      “We have people that currently are a burden to the state that could be productive for businesses and for their families,” Levin said.

      TAB hasn’t committed its support to any specific bills, but Hammond said the organization would review individual measures. Businesses, he said, are particularly interested in reducing barriers to employment for former inmates, such as restrictions on commercial driving licenses and on types of occupational licenses. They would also like to see laws that prevent businesses from potential legal liability for hiring ex-offenders.

      “We’re inclined to see appropriate ways where we can expand the pool of those who can work,” Hammond said.

      The association is also looking at reforms to the juvenile justice system that helped dramatically reduce the population of youths in state lockups in recent years. A key to that success was a measure that gave counties more money from the state if they kept more of the young offenders at the local level for treatment and rehabilitation, or detention if needed, rather than sending them to state-run youth prisons.

      “Probation is a whole hell of a lot cheaper than incarceration,” Hammond said.

      Reform advocates said they are hopeful that the assistance from the business community will bring more conservative legislators’ attention to an issue that has long been dominated by Democrats.

      “There’s a wide range of policy makers who really do believe in strengthening business and saving tax dollars,” said Ana Yañez Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. “Criminal justice reform proposals can really create the outcomes that they campaign on.”

      Business Association Launches Criminal Justice Agenda


      DECEMBER 17, 2012


      WASHINGTON – Twenty-six state departments of corrections reported decreases in their prison population during 2011, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) reported today. California reported the largest decline (down 15,493), while New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Florida, and Texas each had population decreases of more than 1,000 prisoners in 2011.

      Among states that had increases in their prison populations, Tennessee and Kentucky both added more than 1,000 inmates in 2011.

      During 2011, the total U.S. prison population declined for the second consecutive year, to under 1.6 million inmates or 15,023 fewer inmates than in 2010. This represents a 0.9 percent decrease in the total prison population.

      The overall decline in 2011 was due to the decrease in state prisoners, down 21,614 prisoners or 1.5 percent from 2010. The reduction in California’s prison population under the Public Safety Realignment policy accounted for 72 percent of the total decrease in state prisoners. The federal prison population offset the decline in the states with an increase of 6,591 prisoners (up 3.1 percent) from 2010 to 2011.

      As in 2010, prison releases in 2011 (688,384) exceeded prison admissions (668,800). Admissions to federal prisons increased 12 percent (up 6,513 inmates) in 2011 while state prison admissions decreased 6.4 percent (down 41,511 inmates) from 2010. The number of admissions to state prisons (608,166) fell to its lowest level since 2001. Sixty-three percent (26,340 admissions) of the decrease in state prison admissions between 2010 and 2011 was due to fewer parole violators being reincarcerated.

      In 2011 the U.S. imprisonment rate dropped to 492 inmates per 100,000 residents, continuing a decline since 2007, when the imprisonment rates peaked at 506 inmates per 100,000 residents. The national imprisonment rate for males (932 per 100,000 male U.S. residents) was over 14 times the imprisonment rate for females (65 per 100,000 female U.S. residents).

      The percentage of all prisoners housed in private prison facilities increased slightly, from 7.9 percent in 2010 to 8.2 percent in 2011. States housed 6.7 percent of all inmates in private facilities in 2011, a decrease of 1,720 inmates from 2010. The federal Bureau of Prisons held 18 percent (38,546 inmates) of its population in private facilities in 2011, an increase of 4,716 prisoners from 2010.

      In 2010 (the most recent data available) 53 percent of sentenced state prisoners were serving time for a violent offense, 18 percent for property offenses, 17 percent for drug crimes and 10 percent for public order offenses, such as weapons, drunk driving, commercialized vice and court offenses.

      An estimated 188,200 sentenced state prisoners (14 percent) were serving time for murder or manslaughter in 2010, while 160,800 offenders were incarcerated for rape and other sexual assaults. Between 2000 and 2010, the estimated number of state prisoners sentenced for any violent offense increased by 99,400 inmates, or 16 percent (from 625,600 prisoners in 2000 to 725,000 in 2010).

      Inmates sentenced for drug offenses comprised 48 percent (94,600 inmates) of the sentenced federal prison population in 2011, while 7.6 percent of federal prisoners were held for violent offenses. An estimated 11 percent (22,100 inmates) were serving time in federal prison for immigration offenses.

      Approximately 61 percent of sentenced state and federal prisoners in 2011 were age 39 or younger. States held 1,790 inmates under age 18 in custody at yearend 2011 (0.1 percent of the total state prison custody population), down from 2,295 at midyear 2010.

      About half (52 percent) of non-Hispanic white male prisoners were age 39 or younger, compared to 63 percent of non-Hispanic black and 68 percent of Hispanic male prisoners. White and black female inmates age 39 or younger comprised 60 percent of each racial group in 2011, compared to 67 percent of Hispanic females.

      The report, Prisoners in 2011 (NCJ 239808), was written by BJS statisticians E. Ann Carson and William J. Sabol. The report, related documents and additional information about the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ statistical publications and programs can be found on the BJS website at http://www.bjs.gov/.

      # # #

      The Office of Justice Programs (OJP), headed by Acting Assistant Attorney General Mary Lou Leary, provides federal leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist victims. OJP has six components: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the Office for Victims of Crime; and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking. More information about OJP can be found at http://www.ojp.gov.


      DECEMBER 06, 2012

      'Campaign to End Overincarceration' issues 2012 retrospective

      Vanita Gupta was one of the lead litigators in the Tulia drug sting cases on behalf of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and today she's operating the "Campaign to End Overincarceration" on behalf of the national ACLU. She just sent out an "2012 Year in Review" summary on behalf of that campaign which included so much interesting information about national developments.

      2012: Year in Review
      Dear Friends,

      We made a lot of progress in 2012 in the fight to end overincarceration, as voters and lawmakers alike demonstrated that America may finally be waking up from its destructive and costly ”tough on crime” stupor. Some of the most dramatic examples of this shift in public opinion were the marijuana policy wins in Washington and Colorado, which showed that sensible drug law reform is not only necessary, but achievable. Connecticut abolished capital punishment and although California voters disappointingly rejected this year’s proposal to replace the death penalty with life without parole, public opinion there is unquestionably shifting in the right direction.

      Throughout the year, the ACLU was in legislatures across the country promoting smart criminal justice reforms aimed at safely reducing jail and prison populations and dismantling the devastating and ultimately ineffective war on drugs. We were in court fighting abusive police practices and inhumane prison and jail conditions. And we have been relentless in our efforts to end America’s attachment to its cruel and racially discriminatory capital punishment system.

      All of these efforts bode well for the fight against overincarceration and overly punitive sentencing, but we must remain vigilant. The truth is that while the nation is finally beginning to reckon with its addiction to incarceration, it is going to take a lot more work and political will to advance the kinds of reforms necessary to achieve a just and fair criminal justice system. Broad-based, strategic coalitions are required to create sustained demand for true systemic reform. We look forward to working with all of you to get the job done in 2013 and beyond.

      Happy Holidays,
      Vanita Gupta

      For more information about Vanita Gupta, click Here.

      Guest columnists: We need rational approach to incarceration

      AP - The total cost of Texas’ prisons, including the
      Texas Department of Criminal Justice budget and
      directly related outside expenses, is around $3.3
      billion annually, or roughly $60 per day for each
      person who is incarcerated.

      Posted: September 29, 2012

      The numbers are astounding — and depressing.

      More than seven million adults are under some form of correctional supervision in the United States. More than 1.6 million are incarcerated in federal or state prisons, and another 760,000 are locked in jails.

      The United States incarcerates more people, and the highest percentage of its population, than any other country in the world. Total cost of the criminal justice system — police, judicial and corrections — at all governmental levels exceeds $214 billion annually. The annual cost of corrections alone exceeds $68 billion. Our country condemns many offenders who are potentially productive, tax-paying people to lives in cauldrons of misery that often simply teach them to be more effective criminals.

      Texas has the dubious distinction of leading the pack. We lock up more than 154,000 people annually in state facilities, more than any other state. That’s approximately 669 per 100,000 residents, a rate exceeding all but three states and dwarfing the national average of 506 per 100,000. The total cost of Texas’ prisons, including the Texas Department of Criminal Justice budget and directly related outside expenses, is around $3.3 billion annually, or roughly $60 per day for each person who is incarcerated.

      Nationwide, about two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested within three years, and about half are locked up again. In Texas, approximately 70,000 inmates are released from state facilities annually. More than half are rearrested within three years, and more than 28 percent — more than 20,000 — are re-incarcerated, many for new crimes against new victims.

      Calculating and comparing recidivism rates is inexact at best. Different formulas and measures are used, and some results may be politically motivated. But the reported numbers suggest that, while still problematic, Texas has a better record than many other states.

      This record is driven by a number of factors, not least of which is in-prison programming that prepares inmates for re-entry into free society. This includes programs such as substance abuse treatment; the Windham School District that provides academic and vocational education to offenders; the expanding use of faith-based dorms that emphasize accountability, responsibility and moral rehabilitation in all aspects of life; and the recently established seminary at Texas’ Darrington Unit that is designed to train inmates for service to other inmates throughout the system.

      Importantly, more than 19,000 Texans work in a wide range of privately funded programs, ranging from mentoring to teaching job skills and GED classes to preaching and teaching the gospel to quilting classes to training dogs for disabled veterans, and on and on.

      Our 13-year-old Bridges To Life program is a unique 14-week restorative justice program that is conducted in more than 30 Texas prisons, plus juvenile and transitional housing facilities. Its faith-based curriculum emphasizes topics such as responsibility, accountability, confession, forgiveness and restitution. More than 15,000 inmates have completed this program, and their recidivism rate is roughly 40 percent lower than the statewide average.

      The bad news is too many released inmates still commit new crimes against new victims or commit minor violations, and are consequently returned to prison. This recidivism costs Texas citizens many millions of dollars annually, plus untold loss and suffering.

      Unfortunately, the state’s budget woes are leading to major cuts in the very programs that help reduce recidivism, suffering and cost. Budget reductions in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice have been largely focused on community supervision, parole and programming funds. Even the department’s ability to process new volunteers for work in prison programs has been impaired.

      It appears the goose that could lay the golden egg is being killed by short-sighted legislative policy.

      There is a better way. Some people need to be locked up to protect society — and many for a very long time. But the tendency of tough-on-crime advocates to lock up more and more people for longer and longer terms for smaller and smaller offenses, while de-emphasizing the programs aiming to rehabilitate inmates and prevent their return to prison, is misguided at best.

      As responsible citizens, we all need to demand that our elected representatives take a more rational approach to incarcerating offenders, while retaining or expanding in-prison programming as a humane, recidivism reducing, cost cutting — and presumably tax saving — measure.

      Required budget cuts should focus on creating a policy that aims to provide community supervision of offenders who are not a threat to society, incarcerate those who are and rehabilitate them all. And each of us should do our part by participating in or supporting nonprofit programs, such as Bridges To Life, that help restore offenders to the life of a productive, tax-paying citizen.

      John Sage is the founder and executive director of Bridges To Life, a faith-based restorative justice program headquartered in Houston. Kirk Blackard is chairman of the board. Those interested in volunteering locally with BTL can go to www.bridgestolife.org or contact Tac Buchanan at tac@bridgestolife.org. In 2013, BTL will have projects at the Clements Unit, Neal Unit and the Jordan Unit in Pampa on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

      We need rational approach to incarceration

      Texas prison population shrinks as rehabilitation programs take root

      By Mike Ward
      Published: Aug. 11, 2012

      In July, Texas' prison system posted its lowest head count in five years, even as the state's overall population continued to grow at a fast clip.

      Instead of 156,500 prisoners behind bars in Texas' 111 state prisons a year ago, the lockups now hold just over 154,000 — a drop of about 2,500, according to state statistics. Texas, which historically has had one of the highest incarceration rates per capita of the 50 states, is now in fourth place, down from second two years ago.

      Whether the declining prison population is the start of a long-term decrease or a short-lived dip is a matter of debate that will be settled only by time. Still, experts say, prison population declines are occurring in other states, too.

      "It's real. It's happening, not only in Texas, but around the country," said Tony Fabelo, an Austin-based criminal justice consultant who coached Texas officials during the 1990s as the state tripled the size of its prison system and is now advising other states on how to decrease their prison populations.

      "The challenge is to sustain the outcomes to see how far you can go in downsizing prisons. I have my doubts, but it's an interesting time for criminal justice," Fabelo said.

      Instead of sending more and more lawbreakers to prison, judges in Texas and other states are increasingly sentencing them to alternative treatment and rehabilitation programs that have proven more effective — and that cost much less.

      For taxpayers, that could mean safer communities and fewer expensive prisons to operate. For criminals, that could mean more effective programs to help them escape drug and other addictions and become law-abiding citizens again.

      A decrease in crime rates, changes in demographics and an aging state population also have a role in emptying Texas' prison beds, experts say.

      Conservative Push

      Not since the early 1990s, when then-Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat, shook up the historical punishment culture of Texas prisons by opening new drug-treatment prisons focusing on rehabilitation, has such a dramatic trend emerged, some experts say.

      Only this time, conservative Republicans are driving the reforms that began in 2007, as fiscal conservatism gained the upper hand over tough-on-crime policies.

      "Policies in various states are finally catching up with what we know works," said Marc Levin, director at the Austin-based Center for Effective Justice and a leader in the national Right on Crime campaign, which promotes community-justice solutions.

      "For most nonviolent offenders, community-based initiatives are much cheaper and have much better outcomes," Levin said. "In this time of tight budgets and programs that work, this is the conservative thing to do."

      The reforms touch every aspect of Texas' criminal justice system, from the courtroom to the cellblock, including:

      ■ So-called "specialty" courts in Austin, Dallas, Houston and other cities now custom-tailor treatment programs for drug offenders, drunk drivers, veterans and prostitutes to push them to turn their lives around without going to prison.

      ■ Parole officers keep tabs on their charges with high-tech electronic monitoring technology and new risk-assessment tools to ensure the public is kept safe.

      ■ Community-based probation programs for low-level, non-violent offenders are designed to curb recidivism and probation revocations that have landed offenders in prison in years past.

      ■ Special in-prison treatment programs have been expanded over the past five years and now include more than a fifth of the state's prison convicts.

      ■ The trend toward community-based corrections programs has spread to Texas' juvenile justice system, with the closure of half the state-run youth lockups and a focus on keeping youths close to home for programs and treatment.

      New Legislation Due

      More reforms are expected when the Legislature convenes next year, with proposals to change drug sentencing to provide more treatment rather than prison time and a push to fund a 2011 law that allows Texas counties to limit the number of felons they send to state prisons in exchange for more state funding for local corrections programs.

      "We're definitely going to be looking at what works and what doesn't — and we know that treatment and rehabilitation and community justice programs work," said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, an architect of many of the reforms.

      "Prisons should be reserved for the worst of the worst, the violent criminals, murderers, child molesters we should definitely be afraid of. We have a lot of other inmates in there that could probably be housed someplace else, at less cost," Whitmire said.

      In Texas, the cost of incarcerating a convict costs just over $18,000 a year, not counting medical costs that are soaring as the convict population grows older.

      Despite the enthusiasm in Texas and nationally for community-based alternatives to prison, there are limits.

      For one thing, the trend toward declining population might not hold.

      A June report by the Legislative Budget Board predicts that Texas' prison population will trend downward until 2014, when it will start rising again. By early 2015, the report forecasts the number of state prisoners could again exceed capacity.

      For that reason, prison officials remain wary of mothballing prisons because of the expense of reopening them.

      And alternatives to prison don't work for everybody.

      Sharon Padilla's family highlights that dilemma.

      The 34-year-old former Austinite, now living and working in Houston, served three years in Texas prisons for cocaine possession, after flunking out three times on probation with several stints in jail.

      "I went through programs one after the other, but nothing took," Padilla said. "Prison didn't do much, except it got me off the street. Drug court got in my business big time, and I had to get my head straight. But it took myself to want to do it."

      Even so, she said, her younger brother failed to do the same in several community treatment programs in Houston before he was finally sentenced to prison a year ago. Much the same was true with two cousins who are now doing time for gang-related drug crimes in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

      And, while political support is solidly behind community-based programs, there will always be state prisons, reserved for the worst, most violent offenders.

      "The first priority will continue to be public safety, absolutely," House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, said. "But the toughest thing you can do to some people is not send them to prison, but put them in programs that will turn around their lives."

      Contact Mike Ward at 
Twitter: @mikestatesman

      Texas prison population shrinks as rehabilitation programs take root

      Texas is Tops in Locking Up Prisoners

      Posted Aug. 13, 2012
      tevans@star-telegram.com, atinsley@star-telegram.com

      Texas' prison population has dropped to its lowest in five years, but the decline hasn't been as steep as in some other states, most notably California.

      As a result, Texas now has the largest prison population in the nation, surpassing California for the dubious distinction.

      "It's disappointing that so many human beings have done something to get themselves locked up," said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. "All of them are somebody's son, brother, daughter, mother, father.

      "We run a sound system and if we're the largest, it's probably nothing to feel good about."

      California held the title of housing the most prisoners until a new provision required the state to keep lower-level offenders in county jails, rather than prison. That dropped the overall prison population, pushing Texas to the top.

      Texas now houses more than 152,000, compared with about 134,000 inmates in California, according to recent statistics from both prison systems. Florida was a distant third, with about 100,000 inmates as of June.

      A year ago, Texas had more than 156,000 prisoners in 111 state prisons.

      Though Texas, with more than 25 million residents, has more inmates than any other state, it has fallen from second to fourth place in the number of people imprisoned per capita. Louisiana tops the per capita list.

      Texas' prison population has dipped because of diversion programs lawmakers invested in five years ago, ranging from halfway houses to specialty courts that address cases involving mentally ill people and drunken drivers, said Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

      At the same time, California's prison population dropped from more than 170,000 in 2006, as the state worked to divert nonviolent offenders from state prisons, keeping certain classes of them in county jails. That's not currently on the table in Texas.

      A decrease in crime rates, changes in demographics and an aging general population also have a role in emptying Texas' prison beds, experts say.

      Whitmire and other lawmakers expect legislation to be introduced next year calling for more changes to continue the downward trend, at least temporarily.

      One proposal would change drug sentencing to provide more treatment rather than prison time, and another would push to fund a 2011 law that lets counties limit the number of felons they send to state prisons in exchange for more state funding for local corrections programs.

      A June report by the Legislative Budget Board predicts that the Texas prison population will continue to trend downward until 2014, when it will likely begin rising again.

      State Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, chairman of the House Corrections Committee, said: "Texas has a well-deserved reputation of being tough on crime. It isn't a bad or good thing if we're incarcerating the right people. It's a statistic I've dealt with for a long time."

      Cost is a factor in the debate. It costs an average of $50.79 per inmate per day to house a prisoner in one of Texas' facilities, which range from prisons to centers for criminals afflicted by substance abuse, medical or psychiatric issues, Clark said.

      "It should be alarming because we're spending way too much incarcerating people who should be on parole," said state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth. "Back in the '90s, the lock-'em-up philosophy didn't take into consideration how much money it takes to keep people in prison."

      Tarrant County Sheriff Dee Anderson said he wasn't surprised that Texas has become No. 1 in prison population.

      "With Texas being such a large state, that's not terribly surprising," he said. "Texas has always been a law and order state, and the prison system has been known as a tough system.

      "Texas prisons are not for rehabilitation, but for punishment to deter people from coming back."

      This report includes material from the Austin American-Statesman.

      Terry Evans,
      Twitter: @fwstevansTwitter
      Anna M. Tinsley,
      Twitter: @annatinsley

      Read more Here

      Inside Criminal Justice

      Can America Reduce its Prison Population?

      By Ted Gest

      The current trend of prison downsizing in the United States may not succeed unless experts can advise policy makers promptly about which non-prison programs for convicts change offender behavior, says criminologist Joan Petersilia of Stanford Law School.

      In a keynote address to the National Institute of Justice's annual conference Tuesday in Arlington VA, Petersilia warned that it is not inevitable that the current movement among states to reduce prison populations and close penal institutions will continue.

      "We have been here before," Petersilia said.

      She recalled that many states adopted intensive probation supervision in the 1980s and 1990s as an alternative to prison, but research results on its effectiveness were disappointing.

      "We've got to stop overselling community corrections--and under-delivering," Petersilia said.

      She worries that, as in previous decades, prison population totals will moderate or recede in the short run in large part as a way to save government money---but when the economy improves, political leaders will start filling prisons again when they have no proof that non-prison programs worked.

      California a Test Case

      The test case for prison reform is Petersilia's home state of California, where the evolving prisoner "realignment" plan is the "biggest criminal justice experiment ever conducted in America," Petersilia says.

      Even many Californians are not aware that in the last 18 months, the state's prison population has dropped from 172,000 to 135,000, and the number of parolees has plummeted even more sharply, from 132,000 to 60,000.

      While this sounds promising to corrections reformers, Petersilia says it is happening so fast that officials and offenders alike are just beginning to understand the impact.

      Many former inmates complain that they have been taken off the parole rolls so quickly that they are losing government benefits that are reserved for parolees.

      Some are being asked to get back on parole as a result, she says.

      In addition, many prosecutors and law enforcement officials oppose aspects of realignment, contending that it will lead to rising crime rates.

      One big problem is that government agencies are not pouring sufficient funding into ex-inmate rehabilitation.

      Petersilia's Stanford Criminal Justice Center, which is receiving a federal grant to evaluate the California prisoner realignment program of Gov. Jerry Brown, is building a database of how the state's 58 counties are spending the $2 billion they are getting from the state to perform corrections-sytem functions that the state formerly did.

      So far, only 10 percent of that money is going to treatment programs, with the bulk going to sheriff's office, local jails, probations staff, and court services. That bodes ill for keeping ex-inmates from returning to crime, Petersilia says.

      "We can't just sit and watch this go off the train track," she told fellow researchers at the NIJ conference.

      One hopeful sign, she added, is that public opinion currently supports the idea of putting fewer people behind bars. She cited the popularity of Ohio State University Prof. Michelle Alexander's book "The New Jim Crow" on mass incarceration of blacks.

      Petersilia believes that the public will back expenditures of public funds on projects that truly help former prisoners get their lives back together. She has some hope for "social impact bonds," also known as "pay for success," which are contracts with government agencies in which entrepreneurs invest in projects that produce improved social outcomes and save public money.

      Initial interest in the concept has been seen in the juvenile justice area, Petersilia says.

      If these and other non-prison alternatives can't be proved to work, she said, the "incredibly huge" constituencies for the status quo, including labor unions for prison employees and rural communities that depend on income from prisons, will prevail.

      The NIJ conference, being held in Crystal City, Va., near Washington, D.C., concludes today (Wednesday). The annual event has been cancelled for next year over budgetary concerns and will resume in 2014.

      Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and a Washington-based contributing editor to The Crime Report. He welcomes comments from readers.

      Can America Reduce its Prison Population?

      California's Prison Population Eclipsed By Texas Share

      Associated Press
      Published: Jun. 13, 2012

      SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Everything is bigger in Texas, the saying goes, and that is now also true of its prison system.

      California used to have the nation's largest state prison system, topping 173,000 inmates at its peak in 2006. But since a law took effect last year that shifts responsibility for less serious criminals to county jails, the state has reduced its prison population and is no longer the largest in the nation.

      California now has fewer than 136,000 state inmates, eclipsed by about 154,000 in Texas. Florida previously was third, according to 2010 figures from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, and currently has about 100,000 inmates.

      The reduction in California was ordered by federal judges in a decision backed last year by the U.S. Supreme Court. The courts ruled crowded prisons were causing poor care of sick and mentally ill inmates.

      The news comes as the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation on Wednesday announced a new round of layoffs because fewer guards and other employees are needed as the inmate population shrinks.

      "I believe we're No. 2," said Jeffrey Callison, the department's press secretary.

      The population dropped by nearly 25,000 inmates from about 160,000 inmates when the law took effect last fall. The courts ordered the state to reduce the population by about 33,000 inmates in the state's 33 adult prisons by June 2013, though corrections officials now argue they can provide acceptable inmate care without meeting that deadline.

      The 33,000 inmate reduction is larger than the entire 2010 prison population in 37 other states.

      While the court order focused on prisoner care, Callison said crowding also created other problems. Nearly 20,000 inmates were once jammed into triple bunks in day rooms, gyms and other areas, and more than 9,000 inmates remain in private prisons in other states.

      With fewer inmates, the prison system can now begin focusing more attention on rehabilitating the inmates that remain, Callison said.

      However, he noted that the nature of the remaining population is changing. Prisons now have a higher concentration of violent, serious and sexual offenders, the criminals who are left behind as less serious offenders are sentenced to local jails.

      Notices will go out later this month to department employees who are at risk of losing their jobs as a result of the historic downsizing. The notices will start a game of musical chairs as employees with more seniority bump other employees for remaining positions, and as employees shift to vacancies within the department and elsewhere in state government. Some will also likely retire or leave state government entirely.

      A first round of notices went to 26,000 employees in October, but only 545 were eventually laid off. This time, notices are going to four employees for every one job that will eventually be eliminated.

      Callison said the number of notices is not yet being made public, but he estimated it will be in the hundreds.

      At its peak, the department employed 65,000, nearly one of every five state workers.

      Corrections officials estimate the realignment will save nearly $1.5 billion annually by the time the shift is complete in four years.

      Read More Here

      The Caging of America

      Why do we lock up so many people?

      by Adam Gopnik
      JANUARY 30, 2012

      Six million people are under correctional supervision in the U.S. —more than were in Stalin’s gulags.
      Photograph by Steve Liss.

      A prison is a trap for catching time. Good reporting appears often about the inner life of the American prison, but the catch is that American prison life is mostly undramatic—the reported stories fail to grab us, because, for the most part, nothing happens. One day in the life of Ivan Denisovich is all you need to know about Ivan Denisovich, because the idea that anyone could live for a minute in such circumstances seems impossible; one day in the life of an American prison means much less, because the force of it is that one day typically stretches out for decades. It isn’t the horror of the time at hand but the unimaginable sameness of the time ahead that makes prisons unendurable for their inmates. The inmates on death row in Texas are called men in “timeless time,” because they alone aren’t serving time: they aren’t waiting out five years or a decade or a lifetime. The basic reality of American prisons is not that of the lock and key but that of the lock and clock.

      That’s why no one who has been inside a prison, if only for a day, can ever forget the feeling. Time stops. A note of attenuated panic, of watchful paranoia—anxiety and boredom and fear mixed into a kind of enveloping fog, covering the guards as much as the guarded. “Sometimes I think this whole world is one big prison yard, / Some of us are prisoners, some of us are guards,” Dylan sings, and while it isn’t strictly true—just ask the prisoners—it contains a truth: the guards are doing time, too. As a smart man once wrote after being locked up, the thing about jail is that there are bars on the windows and they won’t let you out. This simple truth governs all the others. What prisoners try to convey to the free is how the presence of time as something being done to you, instead of something you do things with, alters the mind at every moment. For American prisoners, huge numbers of whom are serving sentences much longer than those given for similar crimes anywhere else in the civilized world—Texas alone has sentenced more than four hundred teen-agers to life imprisonment—time becomes in every sense this thing you serve.

      For most privileged, professional people, the experience of confinement is a mere brush, encountered after a kid’s arrest, say. For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through an ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones. More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States.

      The accelerating rate of incarceration over the past few decades is just as startling as the number of people jailed: in 1980, there were about two hundred and twenty people incarcerated for every hundred thousand Americans; by 2010, the number had more than tripled, to seven hundred and thirty-one. No other country even approaches that. In the past two decades, the money that states spend on prisons has risen at six times the rate of spending on higher education. Ours is, bottom to top, a “carceral state,” in the flat verdict of Conrad Black, the former conservative press lord and newly minted reformer, who right now finds himself imprisoned in Florida, thereby adding a new twist to an old joke: A conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged; a liberal is a conservative who’s been indicted; and a passionate prison reformer is a conservative who’s in one.

      The scale and the brutality of our prisons are the moral scandal of American life. Every day, at least fifty thousand men—a full house at Yankee Stadium—wake in solitary confinement, often in “supermax” prisons or prison wings, in which men are locked in small cells, where they see no one, cannot freely read and write, and are allowed out just once a day for an hour’s solo “exercise.” (Lock yourself in your bathroom and then imagine you have to stay there for the next ten years, and you will have some sense of the experience.) Prison rape is so endemic—more than seventy thousand prisoners are raped each year—that it is routinely held out as a threat, part of the punishment to be expected. The subject is standard fodder for comedy, and an uncoöperative suspect being threatened with rape in prison is now represented, every night on television, as an ordinary and rather lovable bit of policing. The normalization of prison rape—like eighteenth-century japery about watching men struggle as they die on the gallows—will surely strike our descendants as chillingly sadistic, incomprehensible on the part of people who thought themselves civilized. Though we avoid looking directly at prisons, they seep obliquely into our fashions and manners. Wealthy white teen-agers in baggy jeans and laceless shoes and multiple tattoos show, unconsciously, the reality of incarceration that acts as a hidden foundation for the country.

      How did we get here? How is it that our civilization, which rejects hanging and flogging and disembowelling, came to believe that caging vast numbers of people for decades is an acceptably humane sanction? There’s a fairly large recent scholarly literature on the history and sociology of crime and punishment, and it tends to trace the American zeal for punishment back to the nineteenth century, apportioning blame in two directions. There’s an essentially Northern explanation, focussing on the inheritance of the notorious Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia, and its “reformist” tradition; and a Southern explanation, which sees the prison system as essentially a slave plantation continued by other means. Robert Perkinson, the author of the Southern revisionist tract “Texas Tough: The Rise of America’s Prison Empire,” traces two ancestral lines, “from the North, the birthplace of rehabilitative penology, to the South, the fountainhead of subjugationist discipline.” In other words, there’s the scientific taste for reducing men to numbers and the slave owners’ urge to reduce blacks to brutes.

      William J. Stuntz, a professor at Harvard Law School who died shortly before his masterwork, “The Collapse of American Criminal Justice,” was published, last fall, is the most forceful advocate for the view that the scandal of our prisons derives from the Enlightenment-era, “procedural” nature of American justice. He runs through the immediate causes of the incarceration epidemic: the growth of post-Rockefeller drug laws, which punished minor drug offenses with major prison time; “zero tolerance” policing, which added to the group; mandatory-sentencing laws, which prevented judges from exercising judgment. But his search for the ultimate cause leads deeper, all the way to the Bill of Rights. In a society where Constitution worship is still a requisite on right and left alike, Stuntz startlingly suggests that the Bill of Rights is a terrible document with which to start a justice system—much inferior to the exactly contemporary French Declaration of the Rights of Man, which Jefferson, he points out, may have helped shape while his protégé Madison was writing ours.

      The trouble with the Bill of Rights, he argues, is that it emphasizes process and procedure rather than principles. The Declaration of the Rights of Man says, Be just! The Bill of Rights says, Be fair! Instead of announcing general principles—no one should be accused of something that wasn’t a crime when he did it; cruel punishments are always wrong; the goal of justice is, above all, that justice be done—it talks procedurally. You can’t search someone without a reason; you can’t accuse him without allowing him to see the evidence; and so on. This emphasis, Stuntz thinks, has led to the current mess, where accused criminals get laboriously articulated protection against procedural errors and no protection at all against outrageous and obvious violations of simple justice. You can get off if the cops looked in the wrong car with the wrong warrant when they found your joint, but you have no recourse if owning the joint gets you locked up for life. You may be spared the death penalty if you can show a problem with your appointed defender, but it is much harder if there is merely enormous accumulated evidence that you weren’t guilty in the first place and the jury got it wrong. Even clauses that Americans are taught to revere are, Stuntz maintains, unworthy of reverence: the ban on “cruel and unusual punishment” was designed to protect cruel punishments—flogging and branding—that were not at that time unusual.

      The obsession with due process and the cult of brutal prisons, the argument goes, share an essential impersonality. The more professionalized and procedural a system is, the more insulated we become from its real effects on real people.

      That’s why America is famous both for its process-driven judicial system (“The bastard got off on a technicality,” the cop-show detective fumes) and for the harshness and inhumanity of its prisons. Though all industrialized societies started sending more people to prison and fewer to the gallows in the eighteenth century, it was in Enlightenment-inspired America that the taste for long-term, profoundly depersonalized punishment became most aggravated. The inhumanity of American prisons was as much a theme for Dickens, visiting America in 1842, as the cynicism of American lawyers. His shock when he saw the Eastern State Penitentiary, in Philadelphia—a “model” prison, at the time the most expensive public building ever constructed in the country, where every prisoner was kept in silent, separate confinement—still resonates:

      I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts upon the sufferers. . . . I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain, to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body: and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye and sense of touch as scars upon the flesh; because its wounds are not upon the surface, and it extorts few cries that human ears can hear; therefore I the more denounce it, as a secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay.

      Not roused up to stay—that was the point. Once the procedure ends, the penalty begins, and, as long as the cruelty is routine, our civil responsibility toward the punished is over. We lock men up and forget about their existence. For Dickens, even the corrupt but communal debtors’ prisons of old London were better than this. “Don’t take it personally!”—that remains the slogan above the gate to the American prison Inferno. Nor is this merely a historian’s vision. Conrad Black, at the high end, has a scary and persuasive picture of how his counsel, the judge, and the prosecutors all merrily congratulated each other on their combined professional excellence just before sending him off to the hoosegow for several years. If a millionaire feels that way, imagine how the ordinary culprit must feel.

      In place of abstraction, Stuntz argues for the saving grace of humane discretion. Basically, he thinks, we should go into court with an understanding of what a crime is and what justice is like, and then let common sense and compassion and specific circumstance take over. There’s a lovely scene in “The Castle,” the Australian movie about a family fighting eminent-domain eviction, where its hapless lawyer, asked in court to point to the specific part of the Australian constitution that the eviction violates, says desperately, “It’s . . . just the vibe of the thing.” For Stuntz, justice ought to be just the vibe of the thing—not one procedural error caught or one fact worked around. The criminal law should once again be more like the common law, with judges and juries not merely finding fact but making law on the basis of universal principles of fairness, circumstance, and seriousness, and crafting penalties to the exigencies of the crime.

      The other argument—the Southern argument—is that this story puts too bright a face on the truth. The reality of American prisons, this argument runs, has nothing to do with the knots of procedural justice or the perversions of Enlightenment-era ideals. Prisons today operate less in the rehabilitative mode of the Northern reformers “than in a retributive mode that has long been practiced and promoted in the South,” Perkinson, an American-studies professor, writes. “American prisons trace their lineage not only back to Pennsylvania penitentiaries but to Texas slave plantations.” White supremacy is the real principle, this thesis holds, and racial domination the real end. In response to the apparent triumphs of the sixties, mass imprisonment became a way of reimposing Jim Crow. Blacks are now incarcerated seven times as often as whites.

      “The system of mass incarceration works to trap African Americans in a virtual (and literal) cage,” the legal scholar Michelle Alexander writes. Young black men pass quickly from a period of police harassment into a period of “formal control” (i.e., actual imprisonment) and then are doomed for life to a system of “invisible control.” Prevented from voting, legally discriminated against for the rest of their lives, most will cycle back through the prison system. The system, in this view, is not really broken; it is doing what it was designed to do. Alexander’s grim conclusion: “If mass incarceration is considered as a system of social control—specifically, racial control—then the system is a fantastic success.”

      Northern impersonality and Southern revenge converge on a common American theme: a growing number of American prisons are now contracted out as for-profit businesses to for-profit companies. The companies are paid by the state, and their profit depends on spending as little as possible on the prisoners and the prisons. It’s hard to imagine any greater disconnect between public good and private profit: the interest of private prisons lies not in the obvious social good of having the minimum necessary number of inmates but in having as many as possible, housed as cheaply as possible. No more chilling document exists in recent American life than the 2005 annual report of the biggest of these firms, the Corrections Corporation of America. Here the company (which spends millions lobbying legislators) is obliged to caution its investors about the risk that somehow, somewhere, someone might turn off the spigot of convicted men:

      Our growth is generally dependent upon our ability to obtain new contracts to develop and manage new correctional and detention facilities. . . . The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts, leniency in conviction and sentencing practices or through the decriminalization of certain activities that are currently proscribed by our criminal laws. For instance, any changes with respect to drugs and controlled substances or illegal immigration could affect the number of persons arrested, convicted, and sentenced, thereby potentially reducing demand for correctional facilities to house them.

      Brecht could hardly have imagined such a document: a capitalist enterprise that feeds on the misery of man trying as hard as it can to be sure that nothing is done to decrease that misery.

      Yet a spectre haunts all these accounts, North and South, whether process gone mad or penal colony writ large. It is that the epidemic of imprisonment seems to track the dramatic decline in crime over the same period. The more bad guys there are in prison, it appears, the less crime there has been in the streets. The real background to the prison boom, which shows up only sporadically in the prison literature, is the crime wave that preceded and overlapped it.

      For those too young to recall the big-city crime wave of the sixties and seventies, it may seem like mere bogeyman history. For those whose entire childhood and adolescence were set against it, it is the crucial trauma in recent American life and explains much else that happened in the same period. It was the condition of the Upper West Side of Manhattan under liberal rule, far more than what had happened to Eastern Europe under socialism, that made neo-con polemics look persuasive. There really was, as Stuntz himself says, a liberal consensus on crime (“Wherever the line is between a merciful justice system and one that abandons all serious effort at crime control, the nation had crossed it”), and it really did have bad effects.

      Yet if, in 1980, someone had predicted that by 2012 New York City would have a crime rate so low that violent crime would have largely disappeared as a subject of conversation, he would have seemed not so much hopeful as crazy. Thirty years ago, crime was supposed to be a permanent feature of the city, produced by an alienated underclass of super-predators; now it isn’t. Something good happened to change it, and you might have supposed that the change would be an opportunity for celebration and optimism. Instead, we mostly content ourselves with grudging and sardonic references to the silly side of gentrification, along with a few all-purpose explanations, like broken-window policing. This is a general human truth: things that work interest us less than things that don’t.

      So what is the relation between mass incarceration and the decrease in crime? Certainly, in the nineteen-seventies and eighties, many experts became persuaded that there was no way to make bad people better; all you could do was warehouse them, for longer or shorter periods. The best research seemed to show, depressingly, that nothing works—that rehabilitation was a ruse. Then, in 1983, inmates at the maximum-security federal prison in Marion, Illinois, murdered two guards. Inmates had been (very occasionally) killing guards for a long time, but the timing of the murders, and the fact that they took place in a climate already prepared to believe that even ordinary humanity was wasted on the criminal classes, meant that the entire prison was put on permanent lockdown. A century and a half after absolute solitary first appeared in American prisons, it was reintroduced. Those terrible numbers began to grow.

      And then, a decade later, crime started falling: across the country by a standard measure of about forty per cent; in New York City by as much as eighty per cent. By 2010, the crime rate in New York had seen its greatest decline since the Second World War; in 2002, there were fewer murders in Manhattan than there had been in any year since 1900. In social science, a cause sought is usually a muddle found; in life as we experience it, a crisis resolved is causality established. If a pill cures a headache, we do not ask too often if the headache might have gone away by itself.

      All this ought to make the publication of Franklin E. Zimring’s new book, “The City That Became Safe,” a very big event. Zimring, a criminologist at Berkeley Law, has spent years crunching the numbers of what happened in New York in the context of what happened in the rest of America. One thing he teaches us is how little we know. The forty per cent drop across the continent—indeed, there was a decline throughout the Western world— took place for reasons that are as mysterious in suburban Ottawa as they are in the South Bronx. Zimring shows that the usual explanations—including demographic shifts—simply can’t account for what must be accounted for. This makes the international decline look slightly eerie: blackbirds drop from the sky, plagues slacken and end, and there seems no absolute reason that societies leap from one state to another over time. Trends and fashions and fads and pure contingencies happen in other parts of our social existence; it may be that there are fashions and cycles in criminal behavior, too, for reasons that are just as arbitrary.

      But the additional forty per cent drop in crime that seems peculiar to New York finally succumbs to Zimring’s analysis. The change didn’t come from resolving the deep pathologies that the right fixated on—from jailing super predators, driving down the number of unwed mothers, altering welfare culture. Nor were there cures for the underlying causes pointed to by the left: injustice, discrimination, poverty. Nor were there any “Presto!” effects arising from secret patterns of increased abortions or the like. The city didn’t get much richer; it didn’t get much poorer. There was no significant change in the ethnic makeup or the average wealth or educational levels of New Yorkers as violent crime more or less vanished. “Broken windows” or “turnstile jumping” policing, that is, cracking down on small visible offenses in order to create an atmosphere that refused to license crime, seems to have had a negligible effect; there was, Zimring writes, a great difference between the slogans and the substance of the time. (Arrests for “visible” nonviolent crime—e.g., street prostitution and public gambling—mostly went down through the period.)

      Instead, small acts of social engineering, designed simply to stop crimes from happening, helped stop crime. In the nineties, the N.Y.P.D. began to control crime not by fighting minor crimes in safe places but by putting lots of cops in places where lots of crimes happened—“hot-spot policing.” The cops also began an aggressive, controversial program of “stop and frisk”—“designed to catch the sharks, not the dolphins,” as Jack Maple, one of its originators, described it—that involved what’s called pejoratively “profiling.” This was not so much racial, since in any given neighborhood all the suspects were likely to be of the same race or color, as social, involving the thousand small clues that policemen recognized already. Minority communities, Zimring emphasizes, paid a disproportionate price in kids stopped and frisked, and detained, but they also earned a disproportionate gain in crime reduced. “The poor pay more and get more” is Zimring’s way of putting it. He believes that a “light” program of stop-and-frisk could be less alienating and just as effective, and that by bringing down urban crime stop-and-frisk had the net effect of greatly reducing the number of poor minority kids in prison for long stretches.

      Zimring insists, plausibly, that he is offering a radical and optimistic rewriting of theories of what crime is and where criminals are, not least because it disconnects crime and minorities. “In 1961, twenty six percent of New York City’s population was minority African American or Hispanic. Now, half of New York’s population is—and what that does in an enormously hopeful way is to destroy the rude assumptions of supply side criminology,” he says. By “supply side criminology,” he means the conservative theory of crime that claimed that social circumstances produced a certain net amount of crime waiting to be expressed; if you stopped it here, it broke out there. The only way to stop crime was to lock up all the potential criminals. In truth, criminal activity seems like most other human choices—a question of contingent occasions and opportunity. Crime is not the consequence of a set number of criminals; criminals are the consequence of a set number of opportunities to commit crimes. Close down the open drug market in Washington Square, and it does not automatically migrate to Tompkins Square Park. It just stops, or the dealers go indoors, where dealing goes on but violent crime does not.

      And, in a virtuous cycle, the decreased prevalence of crime fuels a decrease in the prevalence of crime. When your friends are no longer doing street robberies, you’re less likely to do them. Zimring said, in a recent interview, “Remember, nobody ever made a living mugging. There’s no minimum wage in violent crime.” In a sense, he argues, it’s recreational, part of a life style: “Crime is a routine behavior; it’s a thing people do when they get used to doing it.” And therein lies its essential fragility. Crime ends as a result of “cyclical forces operating on situational and contingent things rather than from finding deeply motivated essential linkages.” Conservatives don’t like this view because it shows that being tough doesn’t help; liberals don’t like it because apparently being nice doesn’t help, either. Curbing crime does not depend on reversing social pathologies or alleviating social grievances; it depends on erecting small, annoying barriers to entry.

      One fact stands out. While the rest of the country, over the same twenty-year period, saw the growth in incarceration that led to our current astonishing numbers, New York, despite the Rockefeller drug laws, saw a marked decrease in its number of inmates. “New York City, in the midst of a dramatic reduction in crime, is locking up a much smaller number of people, and particularly of young people, than it was at the height of the crime wave,” Zimring observes. Whatever happened to make street crime fall, it had nothing to do with putting more men in prison. The logic is self-evident if we just transfer it to the realm of white-collar crime: we easily accept that there is no net sum of white-collar crime waiting to happen, no inscrutable generation of super-predators produced by Dewar’s-guzzling dads and scaly M.B.A. profs; if you stop an embezzlement scheme here on Third Avenue, another doesn’t naturally start in the next office building. White-collar crime happens through an intersection of pathology and opportunity; getting the S.E.C. busy ending the opportunity is a good way to limit the range of the pathology.

      Social trends deeper and less visible to us may appear as future historians analyze what went on. Something other than policing may explain things—just as the coming of cheap credit cards and state lotteries probably did as much to weaken the Mafia’s Five Families in New York, who had depended on loan sharking and numbers running, as the F.B.I. could. It is at least possible, for instance, that the coming of the mobile phone helped drive drug dealing indoors, in ways that helped drive down crime. It may be that the real value of hot spot and stop-and-frisk was that it provided a single game plan that the police believed in; as military history reveals, a bad plan is often better than no plan, especially if the people on the other side think it’s a good plan. But one thing is sure: social epidemics, of crime or of punishment, can be cured more quickly than we might hope with simpler and more superficial mechanisms than we imagine.

      Throwing a Band-Aid over a bad wound is actually a decent strategy, if the Band-Aid helps the wound to heal itself.

      Which leads, further, to one piece of radical common sense: since prison plays at best a small role in stopping even violent crime, very few people, rich or poor, should be in prison for a nonviolent crime. Neither the streets nor the society is made safer by having marijuana users or peddlers locked up, let alone with the horrific sentences now dispensed so easily. For that matter, no social good is served by having the embezzler or the Ponzi schemer locked in a cage for the rest of his life, rather than having him bankrupt and doing community service in the South Bronx for the next decade or two. Would we actually have more fraud and looting of shareholder value if the perpetrators knew that they would lose their bank accounts and their reputation, and have to do community service seven days a week for five years? It seems likely that anyone for whom those sanctions aren’t sufficient is someone for whom no sanctions are ever going to be sufficient. Zimring’s research shows clearly that, if crime drops on the street, criminals coming out of prison stop committing crimes. What matters is the incidence of crime in the world, and the continuity of a culture of crime, not some “lesson learned” in prison.

      At the same time, the ugly side of stop-and-frisk can be alleviated. To catch sharks and not dolphins, Zimring’s work suggests, we need to adjust the size of the holes in the nets—to make crimes that are the occasion for stop-and-frisks real crimes, not crimes like marijuana possession. When the New York City police stopped and frisked kids, the main goal was not to jail them for having pot but to get their fingerprints, so that they could be identified if they committed a more serious crime. But all over America the opposite happens: marijuana possession becomes the serious crime. The cost is so enormous, though, in lives ruined and money spent, that the obvious thing to do is not to enforce the law less but to change it now. Dr. Johnson said once that manners make law, and that when manners alter, the law must, too. It’s obvious that marijuana is now an almost universally accepted drug in America: it is not only used casually (which has been true for decades) but also talked about casually on television and in the movies (which has not). One need only watch any stoner movie to see that the perceived risks of smoking dope are not that you’ll get arrested but that you’ll get in trouble with a rival frat or look like an idiot to women. The decriminalization of marijuana would help end the epidemic of imprisonment.

      The rate of incarceration in most other rich, free countries, whatever the differences in their histories, is remarkably steady. In countries with Napoleonic justice or common law or some mixture of the two, in countries with adversarial systems and in those with magisterial ones, whether the country once had brutal plantation-style penal colonies, as France did, or was once itself a brutal plantation-style penal colony, like Australia, the natural rate of incarceration seems to hover right around a hundred men per hundred thousand people. (That doesn’t mean it doesn’t get lower in rich, homogeneous countries—just that it never gets much higher in countries otherwise like our own.) It seems that one man in every thousand once in a while does a truly bad thing. All other things being equal, the point of a justice system should be to identify that thousandth guy, find a way to keep him from harming other people, and give everyone else a break.

      Epidemics seldom end with miracle cures. Most of the time in the history of medicine, the best way to end disease was to build a better sewer and get people to wash their hands. “Merely chipping away at the problem around the edges” is usually the very best thing to do with a problem; keep chipping away patiently and, eventually, you get to its heart. To read the literature on crime before it dropped is to see the same kind of dystopian despair we find in the new literature of punishment: we’d have to end poverty, or eradicate the ghettos, or declare war on the broken family, or the like, in order to end the crime wave.

      The truth is, a series of small actions and events ended up eliminating a problem that seemed to hang over everything. There was no miracle cure, just the intercession of a thousand smaller sanities. Ending sentencing for drug misdemeanors, decriminalizing marijuana, leaving judges free to use common sense (and, where possible, getting judges who are judges rather than politicians)—many small acts are possible that will help end the epidemic of imprisonment as they helped end the plague of crime.

      “Oh, I have taken too little care of this!” King Lear cries out on the heath in his moment of vision. “Take physic, pomp; expose thyself to feel what wretches feel.” “This” changes; in Shakespeare’s time, it was flat-out peasant poverty that starved some and drove others as mad as poor Tom. In Dickens’s and Hugo’s time, it was the industrial revolution that drove kids to mines. But every society has a poor storm that wretches suffer in, and the attitude is always the same: either that the wretches, already dehumanized by their suffering, deserve no pity or that the oppressed, overwhelmed by injustice, will have to wait for a better world. At every moment, the injustice seems inseparable from the community’s life, and in every case the arguments for keeping the system in place were that you would have to revolutionize the entire social order to change it—which then became the argument for revolutionizing the entire social order. In every case, humanity and common sense made the insoluble problem just get up and go away. Prisons are our this. We need take more care. ♦


      JANUARY 27, 2012

      "Old Behind Bars"

      From a Human Rights Watch press release

      Aging men and women are the most rapidly growing group in US prisons, and prison officials are hard-pressed to provide them appropriate housing and medical care, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Because of their higher rates of illness and impairments, older prisoners incur medical costs that are three to nine times as high as those for younger prisoners.

      The 104-page report, “Old Behind Bars: The Aging Prison Population in the United States,” includes new data Human Rights Watch developed from a variety of federal and state sources that document dramatic increases in the number of older US prisoners.

      Human Rights Watch found that the number of sentenced state and federal prisoners age 65 or older grew at 94 times the rate of the overall prison population between 2007 and 2010. The number of sentenced prisoners age 55 or older grew at six times the rate of the overall prison population between 1995 and 2010.

      “Prisons were never designed to be geriatric facilities,” said Jamie Fellner, senior adviser to the US Program at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Yet US corrections officials now operate old age homes behind bars.”

      Long sentences mean that many current prisoners will not leave prison until they become extremely old, if at all. Human Rights Watch found that almost 1 in 10 state prisoners (9.6 percent) is serving a life sentence. An additional 11.2 percent have sentences longer than 20 years.

      A Texas-based fact-bite from the report: "In Texas, although elderly inmates represent only 5.4 percent of the inmate population, they account for more than 25 percent of hospitalization costs. The healthcare cost per day in fiscal year 2005 for an elderly offender was $26, compared to $7 per day for the average offender.[180] In fiscal year 2010, the state paid $4,853 per elderly offender for healthcare compared to $795 for inmates under 55.[181]"



      Prison cuts prove fleeting
      Critics say state can't afford to lock up so many people

      By Mike Ward
      Sunday, Dec. 4, 2011

      Last summer, when tough-on-crime Texas closed its first prison ever, legislative leaders were jubilant over downsizing one of the nation's largest corrections systems by more than 1,000 beds. It was a first big step, they said, toward saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in coming years.

      Meanwhile, prison officials were adding bunks to the other 111 state prisons, which house more than 156,000 convicts. By last week, Texas had about 2,000 more prison bunks than it did a year ago, thanks to a state law that requires the prison system to maintain some excess capacity as a cushion against crowding.

      Because those beds will likely fill up — empty prison beds almost always do — Texas taxpayers could be in line for some whopping additional costs come 2013.

      The situation illustrates how difficult it is to significantly reduce prison costs in a fast-growing state like Texas without confronting a tough political question: Can society afford to keep so many criminals behind bars?

      "This is the adult discussion that the Legislature is going to have to have," said Scott Medlock, an Austin attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project.

      "Ultimately, the problem is that we're incarcerating too many people for too long."

      State Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who for more than a decade has headed the committee that oversees prisons, echoes the sentiment:

      "At some point, because of the costs, we have to recognize that we don't need to waste one dollar incarcerating one person that doesn't really need to be behind bars. We're at that point."

      To significantly reduce the number of people in prison, state laws could be changed to reduce penalties for some crimes or to limit local judges' discretion to mete out long prison sentences for nonviolent crimes — both of which would be unpopular politically.

      About 35 percent of the convicts in prison are serving time for nonviolent crimes, according to a prison system statistical report for 2010.

      The Legislature's belt-tightening during a budget crisis earlier this year shows how difficult it is to cut prison spending, which amounts to about $4 billion for two years.

      The Legislature whacked more than $60 million from prison spending in 2011.

      That resulted in the closure of the aged Central Unit in Sugar Land, outside Houston. Hours at medical clinics at 34 prisons were cut, as were about 200 medical workers. Convicts are now paying $100 a year for their care, if they can, an increase from $3 a visit.

      Only two meals are served on weekends, instead of three, and desserts are off the menu except for once a week. Rehabilitation and treatment programs have been downsized. More than 1,500 employees have been laid off. Prison manufacturing plants have been closed and consolidated. Parole and probation officers are supervising more offenders on the street.

      To cut much more, corrections director Brad Livingston has warned repeatedly, could compromise prison security by forcing layoffs of guards and leaving convicts without enough supervision.

      Still, such overall savings were virtually wiped out with the announcement last week that legislative leaders had promised to appropriate an additional $45 million to the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston to continue providing health care for two-thirds of the state's prisoners.

      Expecting that an even tighter budget may be ahead, even as prison costs — especially medical costs — increase, a variety of advocacy groups are pushing for fewer Texans in prison.

      Medlock suggests that the state Board of Pardons and Paroles should release Texas' "most medically expensive and least criminally dangerous" prisoners — a group that could include several hundred.

      Ten convicts alone racked up more than $6.1 million in medical bills during 2010 — including one 45-year-old prisoner whose treatment cost more than $1.2 million, internal prison-system statistics show. Under current law, prisoners are not eligible to receive Medicaid. Parolees, however, can.

      "Texas inmates aged 55 and older make up about eight percent of the state's prison population, but account for more than 30 percent of the system's hospital costs," Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project wrote in a letter to the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, which is reviewing the operations of the prison and parole systems with an eye toward overhaul in 2013.

      "If released, much of the cost for their care would shift to the federal government, because they would be eligible for Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security Disability Insurance, etc. Likewise, parole is much less expensive than incarceration."

      But so far, the parole board has not agreed, turning down more than 90 percent of convicts who applied for a medical early release.

      Burned by several headline-grabbing cases in which convicts faked an illness or disability to get out and then committed new crimes, Parole Board Chairwoman Rissie Owens has said the panel remains very cautious about approving such releases.

      The Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation's Center for Effective Justice is among a growing number of groups advocating for less spending on prison incarceration and more on less-costly alternative programs.

      "They're much more effective," said director Marc Levin, who is also Texas director for Right on Crime, a national organization of conservative leaders who advocate smarter, not bigger, criminal justice budgets.

      The group includes such notables as GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich, tax-cutting activist Grover Norquist, former U.S. education chief and "drug czar" William Bennett and former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese.

      "There's nothing the state can do to limit its costs (for prisons) if we keep sending more and more people to prison, if we keep expanding the capacity," Levin said.

      Among other budget-savings proposals being pushed:

      • Parole to their home countries some of the 8,000 nonviolent criminals who are not U.S. citizens, a plan that was enacted into law last spring but has yet to see significant results.

      • Allow counties to benefit financially for sending fewer convicts to state prison, through new state funding for local corrections programs that advocates insist would be less costly for taxpayers — and probably more effective in cutting recidivism. A bill to do this died in the Legislature last spring.

      • Reform sentencing laws, and limit the amount of prison time a judge can give some nonviolent offenders. Past proposals for sentencing guidelines have died in previous legislative sessions amid opposition from elected judges and prosecutors who say it would illegally limit their authority to dispense justice based on community mores.

      While more than a dozen other states have recently enacted or are seriously considering such changes, legislative leaders say they are not sure Texas is quite ready to go along.

      "The challenge now is to find a way to operate a smaller system while maintaining public safety, which is the most important consideration," said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden. "We know how to be tough on crime. Being smarter on crime is always much more difficult to figure out."

      For Levin, the issue may be much simpler:

      "At some point, we have to stop putting everybody we're mad at in prison and reserve those cells only for the people we're afraid of."

      mward@statesman.com; 474-2791

      Prison cuts prove fleeting

      Texas prison boom going bust

      Posted Sep. 03, 2011

      FORT WORTH -- For about 20 years, employees at the North Texas Intermediate Sanctions Facility went quietly about the business of housing hundreds of short-term parole violators.

      The prison, a complex occupying almost an entire block at 4700 Blue Mound Road, now is vacant largely as a result of reforms aimed at reducing the state's penal system costs.

      Starting in the early 1990s, Texas ignited an almost $3 billion prison building spree, turning to private prison operators to house inmates as the prison population swelled beyond the capacity of state facilities. Now, state, county and city budget cuts, a decline in crime rates, an older population, and penal and court reforms have all contributed to what some call a glut of inmate beds.

      Those factors have resulted in closed and half-empty prisons and jails.

      They have also left local governments, which saw prisons as revenue and job-generators, scrambling to pay for facilities the state no longer needs.

      The Texas Department of Criminal Justice earlier this year announced $40 million in expense cuts. Those reductions included not renewing the contract for the North Texas ISF, department spokesman Jason Clark wrote in an e-mail.

      "We have enough vacant beds available to cover our operational needs and maintain current ISF operational levels into 2012," he wrote.

      The city of Fort Worth, which owns the 424-bed prison building, plans to seek a new tenant or tenants once the lease with the GEO Group, the firm that managed the prison, expires at the end of September, said city spokesman Bill Begley.

      The facility has been vacant since Feb. 28, when TDCJ's contract with the GEO Group expired, said Bobby Lumpkin, who works with the state's private prison contractor division.

      GEO officials declined to comment.

      Parole violators who would have gone to Fort Worth's ISF in the past are now in other prisons, said Michelle Lyons, TDCJ spokeswoman. With so many vacant inmate beds, Texas has not had to lease any beds from counties since 2008, according to TDCJ documents.

      For counties and municipalities in the prison business, this turn of events has not been good news.

      The West Texas city of Littlefield auctioned off its 373-bed minimum security prison, the Bill Clayton Detention Center, on July 28 because of a lack of inmates. The winning $6 million bid is a little more than half the $11.5 million the city paid in 2000 to build the prison, said City Manager Danny Davis. The money will go toward the bond debt, but the city of a little more than 6,000 residents will have to pay $290,000 a year until it pays off the $3.5 million balance, Davis said.

      "It will sure beat the $780,000 we're paying every year right now," Davis said.

      The city had backed the bonds by a pledge of all the city's taxable property. To avoid default, the city has been cobbling together debt-service payments and last year imposed a debt-service property tax, according to Fitch Ratings.

      The more than 1,100-bed detention facility in Jones County, built by Community Education Centers at a cost of about $35 million, has never had inmates, said Dennis Brown, the county auditor. The facility, near Abilene, was supposed to open last September along with a new 96-bed jail, but the state never placed inmates there, county officials have said. Jones County officials are seeking immigration detainees and prison inmate transfers from California and Texas to keep the center afloat, according to published reports.

      The county faces the prospect of defaulting on bonds, issued by the county's Texas Midwest Public Facility Corp., that financed the project. The bonds were to be paid from revenue from housing inmates, however, and taxpayers are not on the hook. Ratings on bonds for both facilities have been dropped to CC -- highly vulnerable.

      About $3.6 million in bond debt was paid this year from reserves, a county official said Thursday. Trustees and the bond holders will meet later this year to determine how they will proceed once the reserves run out, the official said. "It's a brand new facility," Jones County Judge Dale Spurgin said during a telephone interview Thursday. "It's just a matter of timing. We're continuing to work hard and do everything possible to get the facility populated. Eventually, the state of Texas will need this."

      The Burnet County detention center is regrouping after the state decided not to renew its contract to house inmates there. County officials have used part of its new jail to house about 100 employees with the U.S. Marshal's Service.

      County Judge Donna Klaeger anticipates that the county and its private partner in the venture, LaSalle Southwest Corrections, will find new inmates. As of Aug. 1, the jail housed 318, operating at about 53 percent of its current capacity of 595 beds, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

      The county, through its Public Facility Corp., had issued about $35 million in unrated revenue bonds in 2008 to pay for the detention center, according to the offering statement.

      Johnson County is also regrouping following the exit of its contractor, Community Education Centers. CEC signed a three-year contract with the county in 2008 to run the Johnson County Law Enforcement Center in Cleburne. The company bailed out in March 2010 because it was not making enough money, according to Johnson County Judge Roger Harmon. LaSalle Southwest Corrections has been on the job for about 18 months now, he said.

      Johnson County held 652 inmates as of Aug. 28 and was operating at about 84 percent of its capacity of 775, the Johnson County jail census showed.

      So many such facilities are being vacated nationwide that Jef Conn, the Coldwell Banker real estate agent who engineered the Littlefield auction, now calls himself a detention center specialist.

      "We have prisons that are empty and need to be operating," Conn said. "Right now we're working on three in Texas and eight more in other parts of the country. There have been budget cuts all across the nation and that has spurred the need to sell prisons."

      Rapid expansion

      Since 1980, Texas expanded from 20 state prisons to 111, attaining the nation's highest incarceration rate. Texas had 112 prisons until the official closure of the Sugar Land facility Thursday.

      Now, Texas is finally ahead of the curve when it comes to matching inmate numbers with available bed space.

      Some local governments, though, thought the boom would never end. Private prison operators also assured the cities of a steady stream of revenue.

      Littlefield asked for one of the new state-owned facilities, but never could get one, Davis said. So city leaders decided to build their own prison and got assurances from the Texas Youth Commission that it would send detainees. That worked for four years.

      Meanwhile, TYC built a facility in Waco and began sending detainees there. So Littlefield entered into a contract with Idaho to house inmates, Davis said.

      But in 2008 Idaho pulled out following an audit that found that GEO employees were falsifying records and just before a lawsuit by the family of Randall McCullough, an inmate who committed suicide after spending more than a year in solitary confinement.

      Littlefield then found it difficult to fill beds.

      "You look back and ask why would you take on 30 years of debt on a two-year contract," Davis said. "The community was trying to find ways to grow. When we built this, the community thought it was a great idea. Now it seems like it was not such a good idea."

      Some private prison operators also were stung by charges that they were lax in providing training for their work force, that they skimped on food and medical service and that some guards abused offenders.

      GEO, which operated the North Texas Intermediate Sanctions Facility, was stung by such criticism.

      The company, formerly known as Wackenhut, was criticized for letting one facility fall into disrepair with unsafe and unsanitary conditions, for an escape from the Fort Worth unit and for incidents categorized as riots. In 2010, the company reported a $20.6 million decline in revenue because of the termination of management contracts at the Fort Worth Community Corrections Facility on North Henderson Street, as well as facilities in Venus, Newton and Beaumont and one in Illinois. Still, the company got new contracts for detention facilities in Conroe and Maverick County and in New Mexico; from a Laredo center opened in 2009; and from new services at a center in Pearsall in South Texas, the company reported.

      The Fort Worth facility was opened in 1991 at a site that once served as the Fruehauf Trailer Corp. warehouse. The company spent $2.5 million converting the building and was paid more than $34,000 a month for its role operating the facility. Since 1999, a city entity, the Fort Worth Local Development Corp., has owned the more than 50-acre property, which is valued at more than $3.6 million, according to Tarrant Appraisal District records. As landlord, the Local Development Corp. received $17,420 a month in lease payments this fiscal year.

      GEO Group's contract for the 424-bed facility came up for renewal last year. By that time, the company had lost several contracts and was under scrutiny for hiring a registered sex offender to guard teens at a TYC facility. The company did not submit a new bid for the North Texas facility, Clark said.

      Price break

      For those counties like Harris, with more inmates than they can house, the oversupply of beds is a real silver lining. Harris County has 694 inmates in county jails in Texas and Louisiana, down from a two-year high of about 1,500, said Alan Bernstein, director of communication for the Harris County sheriff's department. Housing offers for inmates without health problems are coming in as low as $29 an inmate per day, Bernstein said.

      "Two years ago, we were paying $35 to $45 an inmate," he said.

      Marc Levin, a criminal justice specialist with an Austin think tank, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, noted that the state recently closed its facility in Sugar Land, the first ever Texas closed without another prison waiting in the wings to replace it, and the conventional wisdom is that the state will close more prisons before ever constructing another one.

      "I would hope that counties and cities would do some population projections before they go forward with building these jails," Levin said. "Any business has to consider how a government's perspective might change. No one is entitled to assume that certain policies are going to remain in place."

      Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752

      Read More

      March 12, 2011

      Proposals Could Make It Harder to Leave Prison


      Danny Bell sat on a brick ledge outside the plain, beige Greyhound station a block from the prison complex in Huntsville and, from behind dark shades, soaked in the sights and sounds of a world he had not seen in more than two decades.

      Mr. Bell spent 21 years in prison for murder, the result of “a youth of ignorance,” he said. He was arrested in 1989 at age 24 and left prison March 4 at age 45 with $100 in his pocket and a bus ticket to Dallas to see his favorite girl: his grandmother. “She ain’t gonna let me out of her sight,” Mr. Bell said, flashing a wide smile with one missing front tooth and another capped in gold, with a star cutout in the center.

      Even if it meant a job taking out the trash at McDonald’s, Mr. Bell said, he was determined to stay out of prison. “You go through too much,” he said.

      But like many of the nearly 130 men who walked out of the Walls Unit that day, Mr. Bell had only a vague notion of how to re-enter the free world. He would stay with his grandmother, take any work he could find and get a lawyer to sue the state for keeping him locked up too long — a paperwork mix-up by the state, he said, kept him behind bars an extra 17 months. “I always said to myself I wanted to work with teenagers,” Mr. Bell said, thinking aloud about what kind of career he might like to have.

      Bill Kleiber has met and prayed with thousands of Danny Bells in the decade since he got out of prison and started working with the Restorative Justice Ministries Network in Huntsville to help other ex-convicts. They come out hoping never to return, but find few resources to keep them from repeating the mistakes that got them there to begin with.

      “It may not be criminal, but it is immoral that we are stranding people like that,” Mr. Kleiber said. What is worse, he said, is that state lawmakers are considering major cuts to fledgling re-entry programs.

      Texas legislators, looking for ways to plug an estimated $15 billion to $27 billion budget hole, are considering proposals that would cut as much as $162 million from rehabilitation and treatment programs meant to help criminals avoid going back to prison. For instance, the $100 Danny Bell received when he was released — the so-called gate money handed to prisoners who have completed their sentence — would be cut in half. Financing for Project Reintegration of Offenders, known as Project RIO, which helps released inmates find jobs, would be eliminated. So would money for educational and vocational programs in prisons and for re-entry transition coordinators. Financing for substance abuse and mental health treatment programs would drop sharply.

      Criminal-justice advocates say the cuts would reverse years of reforms in Texas that have helped reduce recidivism and drive down the size of the prison population. “We’re taking away the basic tools that they need to live responsibly,” said Ana Yáñez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a nonprofit advocacy group.

      The state initiated its reforms in 2007 after lawmakers got some stunning news: Budget writers estimated that the state would need some 17,000 additional prison beds by 2012. It would cost about $2 billion over five years to build and maintain enough capacity. The expected growth was attributed to high probation revocation rates, low parole rates and a lack of access to treatment programs in and out of prison.

      Legislators decided to try a new approach. Instead of building more prisons, they invested $241 million in community treatment and diversion programs meant to keep nonviolent offenders out of prison and to ensure that those who served their sentences would not come back.

      More felony offenders were put on probation, and more prisoners who qualified were released on parole. As access to treatment improved and probation and parole officers had options to impose intermediate sanctions, fewer offenders were sent back to prison. Last year, Texas had the lowest parole revocation rate of the decade, with about 8 percent of parolees returning to prison. The state’s crime rate dropped to the lowest level since 1973, even as the population rose. There are about 7,000 fewer inmates in Texas prisons now than the number that had been projected in the alarming 2007 report.

      Tony Fabelo, research director at the Council of State Governments Justice Center, told lawmakers at a recent hearing that the cuts they are considering would undo that progress. Prison population, Mr. Fabelo said, would rise. Crime rates would spike. By 2013, he said, the state could be short about 8,600 beds.

      Compounding the problem, he said, are plans to close prisons at the same time that treatment and diversion programs are cut. Troubling, too, are proposals to trim other areas of the budget like mental health and substance abuse treatment, public education and jobs programs.

      “You’re really going to have a perfect storm developing,” Mr. Fabelo said.

      Representative Jerry Madden, Republican of Plano and chairman of the House Corrections Committee, was a chief architect of the endangered criminal-justice reforms. He said he planned to fight to keep every dollar Texas had invested in re-entry, treatment and diversion programs.

      “The statistics clearly indicate we’re doing a better job,” Mr. Madden said.

      Inside the dingy store adjoining the Greyhound bus station where Mr. Bell waited for his ride to Dallas, just-released inmates stood nervously in line to cash their gate money checks. They rummaged through piles of used clothes and shoes: $2.99 for an orange polo shirt, $4.99 for a pair of jeans, $22.73 for tennis shoes, $3 for sunglasses. They dropped coins into dusty vending machines that popped out bottles of Dr Pepper and bags of Cheetos.

      Many of them bought cigarettes. Adrian —who did not give his last name — took long, slow drags as he sat on a bench near the bus that would take him home to Houston. At 25, he had just finished a five-year sentence for dealing drugs. It was not his first time in jail; he had spent a chunk of his teens in state youth lockups. Like most of the other inmates fresh out of prison, Adrian said all that was behind him now. “That’s something I’ll never do again,” he said.

      He pulled out a small stack of photos of a ponytailed girl with a bright smile. Five-year-old Adrianna, he said, was his motivation. His plan was to go to college, to learn construction and management like his father, maybe even run his own business. Hard time, Adrian said, had changed him mentally.

      While at the Allred Unit in Iowa Park, Adrian wrote a song about his experiences and titled it “Help.”

      “This is the sea of life, and I’m drowning,” he rapped, nodding his head in rhythm with the words. “I know I can swim, but it seems like I keep sinking down. In these waters I can’t breathe; it seems like I’m going to blow it. I can see people holding a life jacket, but they won’t throw it. Entertained by my pain, and they would love to see me die. Why not love to see me live?”


      Proposals Could Make It Harder to Leave Prison


      AUGUST 20, 2010: NEWS

      The Prison Empire
      Texas stands out

      A few excerpts from Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire:

      "America is 'the land of the free,' yet by one vital measure, it is less free than any other country on earth: it incarcerates a greater portion of its citizenry than any other, about 1 out of every 100 adults. With some 2.4 million persons under lock and key, the United States manages the largest penal system in the world, the grandest ever conceived by a democratic government."

      "A half century ago – before the Montgomery bus boycott, before the War on Poverty, and before the conservative reaction against the social experimentation of the 1960s – blacks in the United States were imprisoned at roughly four times the rate of whites. Today, a generation after the triumphs of the civil rights movement, African Americans are incarcerated at seven times the rate of whites, nearly double the disparity measured before desegregation."

      "Texas's plantations are 'probably the best example of slavery remaining in the country,' reported a national corrections expert in 1978. Twenty years later, when I first started visiting southern prisons, I reached the same conclusion."

      "[J]ust as New York dominates finance and California the film industry, Texas reigns supreme in the punishment business. ... By almost any measure, Texas stands out. The state's per capita imprisonment rate (691 per 100,000 residents) is second only to Louisi ana's and three times higher than the Islamic Republic of Iran's. Although Texas ranks fiftieth among states in the amount of money it spends on indigent criminal defense, it ranks first in prison growth, first in for-profit imprisonment, first in supermax lockdown, first in total number of adults under criminal justice supervision, and a resounding first in executions. When it comes to imprisonment, writes Joseph Hallinan, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Texas is 'where it's happening.'"

      The Prison Empire


      Prisons, Redistricting and the Census

      Published: February 10, 2010

      The Census Bureau struck a blow for electoral fairness recently when it decided to speed up publication of its data on prison populations to ensure it is available for the next round of redistricting. We hope this new data, which will be released in the spring of 2011, will bolster the efforts of reformers who are trying to end prison-based gerrymandering — the cynical practice of drawing legislative districts with populations inflated by inmates who do not have the right to vote and whose actual residences are often far away.

      Far too often, redistricting committees pad underpopulated districts by redrawing boundaries to include large prisons. This practice typically increases the political power of rural areas where prisons are built and diminishes the influence of the urban areas to which inmates eventually return.

      According to a study by the Prison Policy Initiative, a research group, in some counties the phantom prison constituents make up as much 20 percent of the population.

      The decision to release the data early was taken at the behest of Representative William Lacy Clay, a Democrat of Missouri, who has long been concerned about the inequities brought by prison-based gerrymandering.

      The data will be especially helpful to the 100 or so counties that — at great effort — already remove prison inmates from the count at redistricting time.

      And it should give fresh impetus to legislation pending in several states — including New York — that would require them to determine the home addresses of inmates and draw legislative districts based on that information.

      The Census Bureau still has to fix another problem: the failure to count prison inmates in their home districts. The questions for the 2010 census have been written already. The bureau should get to work on this problem with the aim of having it fixed long before the next count in 2020.

      Prisons, Redistricting and the Census


      October 01, 2009

      World Prison Population List:
      All nations still incarcerate at lower rates than Texas

      The new World Prison Population List (pdf) is out from Kings College (London) and the United States once again tops the planet in the percentage of its citizenry incarcerated:

      * The United States has the highest prison population rate in the world, 756 per 100,000 of the national population, followed by Russia (629), Rwanda (604), St Kitts & Nevis (588), Cuba (c.531), U.S. Virgin Is. (512), British Virgin Is. (488), Palau (478), Belarus (468), Belize (455), Bahamas (422), Georgia (415), American Samoa (410), Grenada (408) and Anguilla (401).

      * Almost three fifths of countries (59%) have rates below 150 per 100,000.

      * The world population in 2008 is estimated at 6,750 million (United Nations); set against a world prison population of 9.8 million this produces a world prison population rate of 145 per 100,000 (158 per 100,000 if set against a world prison population of 10.65 million).

      Of course, even though Texas' incarceration rate has been recently declining, our rate still tops the US national rate by a wide margin, which makes Texas arguably the global incarceration leader. At last count, Texas prisons incarcerated more than 1,000 prisoners per every 100,000 residents. About one out of every 22 adult Texans is in prison, in jail, on probation or on parole compared to one out of 31 nationally.

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast


      Nils Christie: Empty the Prisons

      Fix U.S. prison policies

      First published in print: September 16, 2009

      With hearings in Chicago recently, the U.S. Sentencing Commission reached the halfway point, give or take, in its cross-country review of the federal sentencing recommendations that are its charge, guidelines the states typically follow, too.

      The commission was created 22 years ago to fix the wide disparity in sentences for the same crimes in various jurisdictions.

      The fix has become part of another problem. By snatching away sizable chunks of judicial discretion, the commission has contributed to the creation of a prison population so large it defies economic, social and even correctional good sense.

      We have more people, and a greater percentage of our people, in jails and prisons than any other country. To believe that this is necessary, you have to believe that Americans are just, hands down, the worst people on Earth.

      We have a record 7.3 million people in corrections programs, one in every 31 of us, and one in every 100 behind bars. The United States has 5 percent of the world's population and an astounding one-quarter of its prison population.

      Prison populations have continued to climb even as crime has been going down. One big factor has been the increased legislative resort to longer sentences for fad crimes, especially nonviolent ones like drug use or minor dealing.

      Time served in prison grew 44 percent between 1995 and 2006. Especially notorious have been the absurdly long sentences for crack cocaine as compared to powder cocaine.

      The consequences have been disproportionately devastating in the black community, where the cheaper crack has outpaced powder. African- Americans are four times more likely than whites to be in some form of correctional control, largely because of drug sentences, even though white and black drug use are roughly equal.

      That disparity has burdened black America with a large population of men whose best prospects for employment are underemployment and who can offer scant promise as husbands and fathers.

      The United States is now spending about $60 billion a year to build new prisons and maintain the populations of the prisons we already have. The larger part of the tab falls to the states. The sentencing commission has shown a new readiness for flexibility in the last couple of years.

      If that is reflected strongly in its eventual report, perhaps the commission can lead the federal and state systems alike to replace political pathology with sensible policy that eschews show-off sentences and needless ones. Alternatives such as drug treatment and counseling have proven in pilot projects to be more effective than prison at keeping nonviolent offenders out of the criminal justice system's revolving doors.

      Tom Teepen writes for Cox Newspapers.

      August 25, 2009

      California's prison race riot bares striking resemblance to past Texas prison desegregation issues

      By: Scott Henson

      The photo from the LA Times depicts the aftermath of race riots at a prison unit in Chino, CA,

      It was the kind of explosive violence threatened throughout the state's 33 prisons, which are packed with nearly twice as many inmates as they were built to hold. The destruction wreaked here has served to intensify pressures throughout the penal system as at least 1,100 Chino inmates have been moved to other prisons.

      California and Texas run the two largest prison systems among states, but thanks (in retrospect) largely to the legacy of federal judicial intervention in the 1970s and '80s, we've done a better job with many of the problems that give California the most trouble - particularly overcrowding and racial integration.

      A case in point arises from the Chino riots, apparently sparked because the state threatened to breach longstanding racial segregation among prisoners. In Texas, by contrast, that practice ended nearly three decades ago, as aptly noted by Diane Jennings in the Dallas News Crime Blog. Quoting UT-Dallas criminologist James Marquart, the author of a forthcoming book on the topic titled, "First Available Cell," she writes:

      Though the Texas system experienced a few confrontations when integration began, Texas did it right, Marquart says, by having enough space to house gang members and troublemakers in single cells. The rest of the population is screened by their tolerance level and their size--height and weight--to prevent serious injury if problems do erupt.

      The desegregation process actually began in the mid 1960s, Marquart says, when then prison director George Beto saw the changes taking place in the outside world. First prison farms, which had been run separately for black, white and Hispanic inmates, were integrated, then prison units, then cell blocks and eventually individual cells.

      Marquart, who worked as a correctional officer before entering academia, witnesed the process while researching the subject and says Texas should be proud of how it was handled. "They did a great job," he says. "I have maximum pride in how it went." But the process took a long time, he says, and he expects it to take equally long in California.

      "California is today where TDC was in 1980," Marquart says. "It's going to take decades to get it done."

      Article from Backgate Web Site

      August 15, 2009

      Good news for once: Texas among national leaders at reducing incarceration rate

      I couldn't find a way to post the graphic, but take a look at the fascinating chart on page 5 of this DOJ Bulletin (pdf) depicting the change in states' incarceration rate per 100,000 residents over the period 2000-2007. Only New York reduced its per capita incarceration rate more than Texas. Here are the highlights:

      From 2000 to 2007, the imprisonment rate increased from 478 prisoners per 100,000 U.S. residents to 506 residents per 100,000. Imprisonment rate refers to the number of prisoners sentenced to more than one year, under state or federal jurisdiction, per 100,000 U.S. residents. State (37 states) and federal imprisonment rates increased between yearend 2000 and yearend 2007. States with the largest increases during these years were Kentucky (up by 139 prisoners per 100,000 residents), West Virginia (up by 123 prisoners per 100,000), Alaska (up by 106 prisoners per 100,000), and Indiana (up by 91 prisoners per 100,000) (figure 2). The sentenced jurisdiction populations of these four states also increased during these years. With the exception of Alaska, the general populations of these states increased only slightly.

      During the same time period, the imprisonment rates in 12 states decreased.

      New York experienced the largest decrease of 62 prisoners per 100,000 residents, followed by Texas, down 61 prisoners per 100,000 residents, and New Jersey, down 54 prisoners per 100,000 residents. The sentenced prison populations in New York and New Jersey declined during this period. In Texas the prison population increased from 2000 to 2007, while the state resident population increased at a faster rate, leading to the decline in the imprisonment rate.

      Kansas was the only state in which there was no change in the imprisonment rate.

      Given that the same period largely saw reduced or stable crime rates, it's particularly impressive that Texas' incarceration rate declined so much. To me, that chart on p. 5 really highlights how remarkable Texas' decision has been to to shift resources, even at the margins, away from incarceration and toward programming and community supervision. And the trend has been even more pronounced since 2007.

      Of course, at their peak our incarceration rates were the highest on the planet, so we've still got a long way to drop before our levels approach other states' average. At last count, about one in 22 adult Texans were in prison, on probation or on parole. Still, the trend is encouraging, especially by comparison to, say, Kentucky or Florida.

      Posted by; Gritsforbreakfast

      Labels: crime data, Probation, TDCJ

      Op-Ed Columnist

      Getting Smart on Crime

      Published: August 14, 2009

      After decades of supercharged incarceration rates, our bloated prison system is straining under its own weight, and policy makers are finally being forced to deal with the need to shrink it.

      America’s Correctional Population

      According to a study last year by The Pew Center on the States entitled “One in 100: Behind bars in America 2008,” the prison population of the United States has nearly quadrupled over the last 25 years while the nation’s population has grown by less than a third.

      We now have more inmates per capita than any of the 36 European countries with the largest inmate populations, and our total number of inmates is more than all the inmates in those countries combined.

      This comes at a cost. According to a report published last month by the Vera Institute of Justice, an independent, nonprofit research group, $1 in every $15 from states’ general funds is now spent on corrections. That doesn’t work in a recession.

      Much of the rise in the prison population was because of draconian mandatory sentencing laws that are illogical — sociologically and economically.

      On the sociological side, as the criminal justice expert Joel Dvoskin of the University of Arizona explained to me, data overwhelmingly support the idea that locking up low-risk, nonviolent offenders makes them worse, not better.

      A study from a decade ago that was published in the journal American Psychologist put it this way:

      “Department of corrections data show that about a fourth of those initially imprisoned for nonviolent crimes are sentenced a second time for committing a violent offense. Whatever else it reflects, this pattern highlights the possibility that prison serves to transmit violent habits and values rather than to reduce them.”

      On the economic side, putting nonviolent drug offenders in rehab is cheaper than putting them in prison. A 2006 U.C.L.A. study found that California’s Substance Abuse and Crime Prevention Act of 2000, which allowed nonviolent drug possession offenders to go to rehab instead of prison, saved taxpayers nearly $2.50 for every $1 invested in the program. (Unfortunately, funding for the program has been gutted.)

      Put them in prison and make them worse criminals, or put them in rehab, possibly make them better, and save some money. Sounds like a no-brainer.

      There are encouraging signs that policy makers are moving in the right direction. Many states have moved to repeal mandatory minimums, and there is a bill in Congress to repeal federal mandatory sentencing.

      Furthermore, Attorney General Eric Holder seems to be thinking about this issue the right way. Speaking to the American Bar Association last week, he said, “There is no doubt that we must be tough on crime. But we must also commit ourselves to being smart on crime. ... We need to adopt what works.”

      A version of this article appeared in print on August 15, 2009, on page A19 of the New York edition.

      Getting Smart on Crime

      The Moral Choice at the Heart of the Prison Crisis

      AUGUST 14, 2009

      Last weekend’s riot at the prison in Chino - the California Institution for Men - was a terribly fitting capstone to months of downward spiral in the state. The overcrowded, underfunded prison, seething with racial tensions, exploded, leaving 175 inmates injured, one dormitory destroyed by fire and another smashed to uselessness, and all 1,600 prisoners evacuated with nowhere to go.

      The prison situation is not California’s only socio-economic crisis, but it’s certainly one of the most instructive, showing how dysfunctional government, irresponsible politics, and incoherent policy can push a system to the breaking point. The riot came just days after a a court ordered the state to release over 40,000 inmates because the state’s overcrowded prisons violate Constitutional protections against cruel and unusual punishment. And in the meantime, what few prison social programs there are that alleviate some of those conditions are getting slashed further in the latest round of budget cuts.

      How did this happen? First, just consider the numbers. After California voters passed a number of get-tough-on-crime laws in the 1980s, the prison population in the state grew from about 20,000 (where it had been since the 1960s) to 167,000 today. That means that in 20 years, California found over 140,000 more people to put behind bars. And despite the boom in prison building, every single facility in the state is overcrowded. NPR’s Laura Sullivan, in a devastating report well worth listening to, points out that Folsom Prison, once looked to as a model for incarceration, now holds over 4,400 inmates in a facility built to hold 1,800:

      Voters [in the 1980s] increased parole sanctions and gave prison time to nonviolent drug offenders. They eliminated indeterminate sentencing, removing any leeway to let inmates out early for good behavior. Then came the “Three Strikes You’re Out” law in 1994.

      Offenders who had committed even a minor third felony - like shoplifting - got life sentences.

      And just as in today’s health care debate, no matter how bad things are, there are always powerful players invested in maintaining the status quo - in this case, the California correctional officers union. Sullivan reports that the union has grown from 2,600 members to 45,000 since 1980, salaries have increased substantially, and the union has poured money into advertising for get-tough-on-crime laws and the politicians who support them. And yet despite the 30-year hiring blitz, the prison population has grown so much faster, there aren’t nearly enough correctional officers to guard it. At Chino, each dorm of about 200 inmates had as few as two guards, who were of course quickly overrun when the riot erupted.

      Meanwhile, California’s recidivism rate is the highest in the country, at 70%. The court ruling ordering the release of inmates “accuses the state of fostering ‘criminogenic’ conditions that lead prisoners and parolees to commit more crimes, feeding a cycle of recidivism.” Shoplifters and small-time drug offenders and parole violators are being thrown in with violent felons, and essentially being assimilated into a culture of greater criminality. Kara Dansky, Executive Director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, tells On Point:

      Increasing studies are showing that prison actually has an effect of increasing crime in many ways. If you look at it at a local level, what the data shows is that in communities where increasing numbers of people are being sent to jail and prison, crime in those communities goes up…and there is speculation that it’s actually the conditions in prison that are causing these increasing crime rates.

      Dansky acknowledges that the increasing incarceration rate does have some correlation to the decrease in violent crime over the last couple of decades, but notes that the latest studies suggest that it’s been responsible for only about a quarter of that crime reduction. It’s not hard to see plenty of other factors that played a role in reduced crime: the burgeoning economy of the 90s, the subsiding crack epidemic, the increased funding for community policing.

      But what’s really at the heart of the country’s prison crisis is a moral problem. And I don’t mean that in the usual sense - that we have a moral obligation to treat prisoners decently. In creating the largest prison system in the world over the last 30 years, America has engineered not a public safety or rehabilitative system but a vast punitive system. And that’s a moral choice. In the quote above, Dansky was responding to a caller who suggested that we could reduce prison costs by making conditions worse. Why spend money on facilities or care at all when prisoners have, after all, given up their rights by committing crimes?

      I don’t mean to suggest that that caller represents a majority of Americans. But especially in a state like California, which requires direct voter approval of so many budget items, it’s politically easy to get voter approval and funding for locking people up - but very difficult to get approval and funding for prison upkeep and rehabilitative programs. And that’s largely because we’ve chosen to decide our funding priorities according to what people deserve.

      That’s a moral choice. And we have to decide how much money and energy and resources we’re willing to devote to making sure people get what we feel they morally deserve.

      Because a punitive system is inarguably more expensive than a rehabilitative one. It costs an average of $29,000 a year to keep someone in prison, but just $1,250 for probation and $2,750 for parole. And if you added just a tad to that $29,000 for rehabilitative and/or job training programs, you might be able to insure that those prisoners never come back. Folsom Prison has a 75% recidivism rate. But in 20 years, not one inmate who participated in the prison’s Braille program, learning to translate books for the blind, has ever returned. Of course this year, that program’s been cut back to just 19 inmates out of 4,400.

      But especially after 30 years of politicians one-upping each other in toughness on crime, it’s a hard political sell. In the long run, giving criminals good conditions, good health and mental care, and programs to help them be better citizens might be better for us all. But that doesn’t sound enough like punishment.

      This moral/punitive streak isn’t just about prisons.

      An increasing number of health care town hall attendees are protesting the possibility that taxpayer-funded health care might go to illegal immigrants. Illegals aren’t covered in any bill under consideration, but New York Rep. Anthony Weiner is one of the only politicians who was willing to tell constituents at a town hall that covering illegal immigrants is cheaper than forcing them to go to emergency rooms. (A campaign in California aims to restrict what little coverage there is by making children of illegal immigrants ineligible for any state benefits, including health care. The measure’s sponsors say their intent is to persuade illegals not to come - to prevent so-called “birth tourism” - but it seems pretty punitive to me.)

      But even if enough people were convinced that providing better conditions to prisoners, or health care to illegal immigrants, were cheaper and statistically better for society as a whole…would we support it?

      In a 2006 essay Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of a radical new approach to chronic homelessness in Denver. Given that a homeless person with chronic substance abuse problems can cost a state an estimated one million dollars over ten years in hospital visits, substance abuse treatment, and police work, the city decided to see what would happen if, instead of managing homelessness, it simply ended it: it took over one hundred chronically homeless people, gave each an apartment, and assigned case workers to manage them. It turned out to cost a third of what these homeless people would cost the taxpayers if they stayed on the street. But, writes Gladwell, it was extremely difficult for people to get behind:

      From an economic perspective the approach makes perfect sense. But from a moral perspective it doesn’t seem fair. Thousands of people in the Denver area no doubt live day to day, work two or three jobs, and are eminently deserving of a helping hand-and no one offers them the key to a new apartment. Yet that’s just what the guy screaming obscenities and swigging Dr. Tich gets. When the welfare mom’s time on public assistance runs out, we cut her off. Yet when the homeless man trashes his apartment we give him another. Social benefits are supposed to have some kind of moral justification. We give them to widows and disabled veterans and poor mothers with small children. Giving the homeless guy passed out on the sidewalk an apartment has a different rationale. It’s simply about efficiency.

      Even the promise of millions of dollars in savings…cannot entirely compensate for such discomfort.

      Given the option of a prison system that was cheaper and more rehabilitation-focused, it’s entirely possible that many Americans would opt to spend more money on punitive measures - or measures that seem morally fair. We could have a “punishment tax” to fund more prisons and more guards, who could be charged with making sure prisoners don’t get too comfy. That’s a moral and social and economic choice we need to make, but that of course isn’t the way the debate is framed.

      The other option is the track we’re on right now: we can keep trying to bring down that $29,000-a-year cost per prisoner. We could have tent camps instead of prisons, less food, no health care. If prisoners got sick or died, well, they gave up their rights when they committed a crime. (Already, one California inmate per week dies of treatable or avoidable illness.) And since prisoners are likely to emerge from these conditions as even more hardened criminals, perhaps we should think about not letting them out at all. I’m not trying to be melodramatic; I’m just gaming out the logical conclusions of the strains of thought that are politically popular - or palatable - right now.

      In the end, the moral question around the prison crisis is as much about us as it is about the inmates themselves. It’s possible to believe that convicted criminals don’t deserve anything at all, while still believing that our vast punitive system of overcrowded, violent, criminogenic prisons is something that shouldn’t exist in the United States.

      The Moral Choice at the Heart of the Prison Crisis

      States Can't Afford Prison System Boom

      August 12, 2009

      In a season of deep deficits and alarming program cuts, why aren't states more seriously focused on reducing their swelling prison populations? The Vera Institute of Justice reports unusual progress — 22 states, pressed by the recession, are reluctantly starting cutbacks. But with a world-leading 2.3 million people behind bars, the United States has a long, long way to go. California's case is extreme, but illustrative.

      In the mid-1970s, it had about 20,000 offenders behind bars. Today the total is 168,000 inmates — an increase of 740 percent. In 1999, its prison system cost an already massive $4 billion to operate. Now, with more prisoners, more penitentiaries, more guards and more health costs, the budget figure has topped $10 billion — a big contributor to the $26 billion state budget shortfall. And the money is producing more horrors than cures.

      After 14 years of lawsuits by inmates alleging cruel and unusual punishment, a three-judge federal court panel on Aug. 4 ordered California to reduce its prisoner rolls by 43,000 inmates over the next two years. The state, the judges wrote shortly before a major riot at a prison in Chino, has created a "criminogenic" system that pushes prisoners and parolees to more crimes through "appalling," "horrific" prison conditions:

      "Some institutions have populations approaching 300 percent of their intended capacity. In these overcrowded conditions, inmate-on-inmate violence is almost impossible to prevent, infectious diseases spread more easily, and lockdowns are sometimes the only means by which to maintain control. In short, California's prisons are bursting at the seams and are impossible to manage."

      Mentally ill inmates are left without access to health care, said the judges, noting that in the past four years "a California inmate was dying needlessly every six or seven days." California's fiscal crisis has already led Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and legislative leaders to agree to cut $1.2 billion from the prison budget.

      They haven't agreed how, though discussion includes reducing prison rolls by up to 37,000 through early releases and revised parole practices. Already, California's increasingly ideological Republicans are opposed. Assembly Leader Sam Blakeslee talks darkly of "letting out some very dangerous criminals onto our streets and into our neighborhoods."

      And it isn't just Republicans who resist significant reform — it's California's powerful "prison-industrial complex." Last autumn, the reformist Drug Policy Alliance Network and its allies put a Nonviolent Offender Rehabilitation Act on the ballot.

      Supported by a wide range of treatment officials and former high- ranking corrections officials, it focused on non-prison treatment for nonviolent drug offenders plus "good time" credits for inmates and fewer arrests of parolees for technical violations. California's high recidivism rates would be curbed and billions in new prison construction forestalled.

      But California's prison guards union (with 2,000-plus members earning more than $100,000 a year) didn't like the idea of fewer inmates (and jobs). So with other pro-prison forces, it mounted a $3.5 million television campaign in opposition. California's political establishment fell into line, including Schwarzenegger and former governors such as present Attorney General Jerry Brown (a likely 2010 gubernatorial candidate). The measure lost resoundingly.

      In contrast to California's folly, New York state has actually reduced its prison rolls by 10,000 in the past decade. How? By relying heavily on the types of alternative treatment for nonviolent offenders that California spurns. And just this year, New York finally repealed the infamous "Rockefeller drug laws" that helped swell its prisons with minor offenders serving long terms.

      Now California reformers are pushing a "People's Budget Fix" formula they say would save at least $12 billion over the next five years. It includes a claimed $5.5 billion savings through community-based addiction treatment for minor drug offenses. Another $1 billion a year could be saved by limiting three-strikes penalties to violent crimes (not just shoplifting or simple drug possession).

      Such rational reforms — increasingly echoed in states nationally as the fiscal grinder minces budgets — were needed long before the current recession. They'll be important long afterward. When, as a society, we take these rational steps, we'll not just save dollars.

      We'll also start to spare the horrendous human waste and harm to families of knee-jerk law-and-orderism that can't discern between deep and serious criminal behavior and the missteps, usually in youthful years, that most societies deal with far more calmly — and effectively.

      • Neal Peirce is a syndicated writer in Washington.

      States Can't Afford Prison System Boom

      August 6, 2009


      Democracy Behind Bars

      WHEN do communities want prisoners in their backyards? When the census rolls around.

      Counting inmates as residents — which is permitted under the Census Bureau’s “usual residence” rule — skews political power, clout and resources. Unless the Obama administration acts soon to change the residence rule, these imbalances will be built into the 2010 census.

      The problem is simple: the usual residence rule creates political districts that would not otherwise exist. For example, the district of State Senator Elizabeth O’C. Little, a Republican in upstate New York, has 13 prisons, adding approximately 13,500 incarcerated “residents.” Without the inmate population, Ms. Little would face an uncertain future. Her district would probably have to be redrawn because it wouldn’t have enough residents to justify a Senate seat.

      The residence rule raises two fundamental issues:

      First, inmates in nearly all states aren’t allowed to vote, yet their presence affects electoral representation in places where they do not live permanently.

      Second, a disproportionate number of state prison inmates are from urban areas. Most state prisons, however, are in rural areas. As a result, resources and electoral authority are transferred from inner cities to rural jurisdictions.

      The effects are plain to see. Cities lose out on funds that could be used both for crime prevention and prisoner rehabilitation; rural areas do their best to thwart reform because they don’t want to lose the benefits that prisons confer on them.

      What can be done?

      The politics are complicated. Municipal leaders — including the mayor of New York City — support counting inmates in their last known address before incarceration. Rural officials support keeping the residence rule as it is. Criminal justice experts think it’s best to count inmates as residents of the communities where they are likely to return after their incarceration. (This, after all, is where the re-entry programs need to be.)

      The Obama administration would do well to find a middle path.

      Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Robert Groves, director of the Census Bureau, should propose an administrative change to the residence rule: Inmates returning to their home communities before the next census period — those serving a sentence of 10 years or less — should be counted in their home communities. Those serving more than 10 years should be counted where they are in custody. (The residence rules for other large transient groups, like college students, wouldn’t be affected by this change.)

      This proposal is not perfect, but it would begin to rectify the political imbalance inherent in the residence rule — an imbalance that distorts both the census and basic democratic principles.

      Anthony Thompson, a professor at the New York University School of Law, is the author of “Releasing Prisoners, Redeeming Communities.”

      Democracy Behind Bars

      AUGUST 5, 2009

      Three Strikes and You're In

      Won’t [public flogging] be fine.
      Th’ Govermint gives us too little amusemint nowadays.
      Th’ fav’rite pastime iv civilized man is
      croolty to other civilized man.

      — Finley Peter Dunne,
      Corporal Punishment

      It is always refreshing when awareness and consequences catch up with the absurd. For more than 40 years, some thought that the way to reduce criminal activity was to limit the number of crimes a person was permitted to commit before life in prison without parole became the imperative alternative. Such enlightened approaches to crime were known as “three strikes” laws. Absurd applications are legion but my favorite is the Texas case of Rummel v. Estelle that was especially instructive because it introduced into the world of the air conditioner repairman a cautionary note. The case stands for the proposition that failure to satisfactorily repair an air conditioner when charging for the work may led to a prison sentence of life without parole.

      In 1964 William James Rummel was convicted of fraudulently using a credit card in order to obtain $80 worth of goods or services and sentenced to 3 years in jail. One way of looking at that sentence was that if he got to keep the $80 worth of goods or services he effectively paid $26.67 for each of the years he spent in prison.

      Unfortunately, prison was not a didactic experience for him.

      Within a year after his release, he passed a forged check in the amount of $28.36, pled guilty and was given 4 more years in the penitentiary at a cost to him, if he got to keep the money, of $7.09 a year. Viewed in a positive light, he was given room and board for 4 years for a very modest sum. The only thing he didn’t get was freedom. Sadly, and herein lies the cautionary tale for air conditioner repair people, it was his attempt to earn an honest living that got him back into prison for life.

      As soon as he was released he went into the air conditioning repair business and charged a customer $120.75 for a repair. His work was unsatisfactory but he refused to return what he had been paid. In Texas that constitutes obtaining money under false pretenses and convicted of that, he was sentenced to prison for life under Texas’s three strikes law. He appealed and the U.S. Supreme Court upheld his sentence.

      In an opinion written by Chief Justice Rehnquist in 1980, the Court held Mr. Rummel’s sentence did not violate the 8th and 14th Amendments’ ban against cruel and unusual punishment. The Chief Justice, apparently somewhat embarrassed by upholding Mr. Rummel’s sentence, said: “We all of course, would like to think that we are ‘moving down the road toward human decency’ Furman v. Georgia . . .. Within the confines of this judicial proceeding, however, we have no way of knowing in which direction that road lies” Not being a legal cartographer I could not then have commented on whether he was right or wrong in not knowing in which direction “that road lies.” Events today suggest, however, that he and his colleagues would have been well served by a legal GPS, had such a device then been available to the Court, since Mr. Rummel was one of many in the United States who received life sentences courtesy of the three strike laws.

      Leandro Andrade, some 30 years later, received two consecutive 25 year sentences in California after stealing 9 videotapes from two different K-Mart stores in a two week period (following other convictions) and, once again, 5 members of the U.S. Supreme Court were comfortable with the application of the three strikes law.

      Such historical ruminations are only timely because of a recent report in The New York Times that prisons are now overcrowded to the point where non-violent prisoners must be released for want of adequate space to house all the inmates. A few days after that report was published, a panel of federal judges in California issued a 184- page order requiring California to reduce its inmate population by 40,000 prisoners within two years. The court observed that the overcrowding resulted in the unnecessary death of one inmate per week (not, obviously, enough to solve the problem of overcrowding.) Although not attributing the overcrowding to three strikes laws, the court observed that the 750% increase in California’s prison population during the last 30 years is “the result of political decisions made over three decades, including . . . the passage of harsh mandatory minimum and three-strikes laws. . . . .”

      Now would be a good time for legislators to revisit the questionable penal policies that may or may not have reduced crime in the country but have undeniably increased the prison population to intolerable levels.

      Christopher Brauchli can be e-mailed at
      For political commentary see his web page at

      Three Strikes and You're In

      Prisons not the answer to crime problems: Attorney General

      August 3, 2009
      Political Reporter

      More prisons are not the answer to America’s crime problems, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told the nation’s lawyers Monday.

      “We will not focus exclusively on incarceration as the most effective means of protecting public safety,” Holder told the American Bar Association delegates meeting here for their annual convention.

      “Since 2003, spending on incarceration has continued to rise, but crime rates have flattened.”

      Holder conceded that the massive build-up of prisons — a seven-fold increase over the past 40 years — probably has something to do with the crime rate dropping 40 percent since 1991.

      “Today, one out of every 100 adults in America is incarcerated — the highest incarceration rate in the world,” he said. But the country has reached a point of diminishing returns at which putting even greater percentages of America’s citizens behind bars won’t cut the crime rate.

      That’s in part because once people spend time in prison, they’re likely to keep engaging in the kind of behavior that sends them back to prison, he said.

      “Most crimes in America are committed by people who have committed crimes before,” Holder said. “About 67 percent of former state prisoners and 40 percent of former federal prisoners are re-arrested within three years of release. If we can reduce the rate of recidivism, we will directly reduce the crime rate.”

      Prisoners who undergo drug treatment and/or work training in prison are 16 percent less likely to re-offend after their release, he said.

      Diverting non-violent drug offenders away from prison and into treatment programs, as New York State does, saves taxpayers money, better rehabilitates offenders and helps reduce the crime rate, Holder said.

      “Every state in the union is trying to trim budgets,” Holder said. “States and localities are laying off teachers, cutting back on public health, and canceling after-school programs for our children. But in almost all cases, spending on prisons continues to rise. This is unsustainable economically.”

      Holder provoked applause from the delegates when he complained that across the country, state and local governments are under-funding public defenders, whose growing caseloads make it difficult for them to adequately represent their clients.

      Holder did not speak on the delegates overwhelming voice vote to ask Congress to repeal part of the Defense Of Marriage Act that prevents same-sex partners receiving federal benefits even in states that have legalized gay marriage.

      Prisons not the answer to crime problems

      July 14, 2009

      Texas praised for prison pop reduction efforts

      Texas' efforts to reduce prison population growth through drug diversion programs and probation reforms were highlighted in a Washington Post feature yesterday titled, "States seek less costly substitutes for prison" (July 13).

      According to reporter Keith Richburg:

      what is striking, experts say, is how some states with reputations for being tough on crime are most rapidly embracing these policies, which might have once been dismissed as the product of liberal think tanks and soft-on-crime leniency.

      Texas is a case in point. From 1978 to 2004, the inmate population rose 573 percent and the state's population increased 67 percent.

      [Ed. note: I wonder where that data came from?] With hard sentencing laws and some conservative judges, Texas built a "lock 'em up" reputation.

      The state has more than 155,00 inmates and leads the nation in putting prisoners to death.

      But two years ago, Texas officials were faced with an alarming projection: By 2012, the state would need 17,000 more beds, which would mean building eight prisons at a cost of nearly $1 billion.

      State Rep. Jerry Madden, a self-described conservative Republican, had just taken over as chairman of the Texas House committee on corrections. "I started asking questions," he said in a phone interview. To avoid building more beds for more prisoners, Madden said, "You either got to slow 'em going in, or speed 'em going out. And Texas is not a state that says, 'Speed 'em up going out.'"

      Madden said he pulled together experts from conservative and liberal think tanks. "When it came to prison ideas that work, they all agreed," he said.

      The changes, implemented in the 2007 legislative session, included more funding for drug and DWI courts. New rules shortened the average probation time from 10 years to five. With about 445,000 people on probation, the system had become "the Number One feeder to the prison system," said Ana Yáñez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, a progressive group.

      The state also ordered the parole board to raise its parole rate to an earlier number of 31 percent; the proportion of eligible inmates granted parole had slipped to 26 percent.

      With those changes in place, prison population growth slowed to a trickle. From January 2007 until December 2008, Texas added 529 inmates to its total, a tenth of what was projected.

      C. West Huddleston, chief executive of the Alexandria-based National Association of Drug Court Professionals, said Texas may have been in a better position than other states to make such dramatic changes because its prison growth was so much worse.

      "Texas is a remarkable example of how to take control of an explosive prison population," he said. "If Texas can do it, any state can do it."

      Via Doc Berman.

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

      Labels: Drug courts, Probation, TDCJ

      New ‘jail czar' will deal with overcrowding

      July 13, 2009

      Commissioners Court is expected today to appoint a former state District Judge Caprice Cosper serve as “jail czar” to head a council of elected officials grappling with overcrowding that has plagued the Harris County lockup for years and prompted the county to send more than 1,000 prisoners out of state.

      A criminal justice coordinating council — comprised of 11 elected county officials — was one of 28 recommendations made last month by Justice Management Institute, a Denver-based consulting firm that authored an exhaustive, $150,000 study of the county's troubled justice system.

      The study noted the rising jail population — which more than doubled in five years — is driven largely by an upsurge in arrests for possession of trace amounts of illegal drugs, as well as a lack of facilities and services for large numbers of mentally ill, who make up 25 percent of the jail population. The county's over-reliance on antiquated record-keeping in paper files and outdated computers was cited, as was the need for coordinated oversight of all related criminal justice operations.

      “There's a misconception that's there one single thing and there's not, there's not a silver bullet,“ said Caprice Cosper, an executive assistant to Commissioner Steve Radack and a former district judge who is expected to be approved as council director.

      “There are a lot of puzzle pieces that need to be looked at,” Cosper said. “Harris County is lucky in that it has a lot of (criminal justice) data ... but we don't have it in the form we need to answer questions we need answered.“

      No defense lawyers

      Cosper, who will make $130,000 a year, said her job will be to serve the council with information to help reduce jail overcrowding, as well as help adjust law enforcement priorities.

      “Our low-level drug offenders are driving the train on a lot of our population issues, and not just the jail, but in the courts. That'll be something the council will be looking at,“ she said.

      Leaders of the county's defense bar were disappointed at not getting a seat at the council table.

      “When you get all stakeholders together to discuss the issue, you'll formulate the very best plan. If you leave out a major stakeholder, I think you plan to fail,“ said Earle Musick, past president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyer's Association. “We're kinda used to it.” 11,107 in jail Monday.

      Sheriff Adrian Garcia said he was eager to work with other county officials to find alternatives to sheltering large numbers of mentally ill, as well as those who are in jail awaiting trial because they cannot make bail.

      On Monday, the jail population was 11,107, which included 6,064 prisoners awaiting trial. Also jailed were 485 inmates who were waiting to be transferred to state prison, 1,313 serving time for state jail offenses and another 481 ex-convicts picked up for parole violations.

      “I want to be a partner in trying to bring about the best possible commitment to public safety ... and find new ways to manage the jail population,” Garcia said.

      Last month, Commissioners Court gave the sheriff's department approval to negotiate with six Texas counties for 885 jail beds to further reduce the local jail population.

      District Attorney Pat Lykos expressed confidence the council can quickly make a difference in the jail population, as well as related problems of housing the mentally ill and job training for offenders in residential restitution centers.

      Looking for bottlenecks

      “I want to fill those cells up with dangerous criminals,” Lykos said. “We're going to do the research, and it's not going to take an inordinate length of time. We're determining where the bottlenecks are and where the changes need to be made.”

      Lykos also suggested legislative changes allowing state jail inmates to accrue reduced time for good behavior. Now, prosecutors use the prospect of serving state jail time in the county lockup as an incentive for plea bargains.

      Commissioner Sylvia Garcia said the council was “long overdue.“

      “What's important is the results won't be what the sheriff is doing, or the courts or the district attorney — it's everyone together,“ she said. “I think well be able to get something done.”


      New ‘jail czar' will deal with overcrowding


      Roommates for Life - How do prisons deal with overcrowding?

      By Christopher Beam
      Posted June 30, 2009

      Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm sent a letter to California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger Monday offering to take some prisoners from his overcrowded facilities. The California prison system is currently at twice its intended capacity. How do prisons deal with so much overcrowding?

      They add more beds. Prisons are built to hold a certain number of inmates, with one bed per prisoner. When the population increases, single cells become doubles, doubles become triples, and so on, with new makeshift beds bolted into the walls. Dayrooms—the communal areas intended for recreation and relaxing—get filled with bunk beds, as do gymnasiums. When those spaces fill up, prisoners will often sleep in "boats," or plastic canoe-shaped trays that can be laid on the floor at night and stacked during the day. (See a picture here.) A prison will sometimes open up a new temporary facility, like the famous "tent city" of Maricopa County jail in Arizona. Worst-case scenario, prisoners go to other states: California has already sent more than 7,000 inmates to Arizona, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Oklahoma.

      The problems with overcrowding go beyond sleeping arrangements. Tight quarters lead to higher levels of violence between prisoners. They also make security more difficult, since it's harder for guards to see across large rooms when they're filled with beds. Sanitation suffers as well—toilets break from overuse, showers get clogged, and diseases are more easily transferred. As a result, convicts overwhelm the prison health system—hence California's prison health care debacle.

      In the 1981 case Rhodes v. Chapman, the Supreme Court ruled that prison overcrowding is not unconstitutional, per se, and that the U.S. Constitution "does not mandate comfortable prisons." The justices did note, however, that overcrowding can lead to other conditions that violate the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The court defined those conditions as "the wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain," "pain without any penological purpose," "serious deprivation of basic human needs," or deprivation of "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities."

      The American Correctional Association, which accredits 1,500 prisons across the country, does issue guidelines for how much physical space prisoners need. In single cells, each prisoner should have at least 35 square feet of unencumbered space. If the inmate spends more than 10 hours a day in his cell—which is rare in most prisons—he needs 80 square feet. When the number of inmates in the room is between two and 50, each one gets 25 square feet. These standards, however, aren't mandatory, even for prisons that get certified.

      Explainer thanks David Fathi of Human Rights Watch, Jenni Gainsborough of Penal Reform International, and Eric Schultz of the American Correctional Association.

      Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

      Christopher Beam is a Slate political reporter.
      Follow him on Twitter.

      Article URL: Roommates for Life

      June 19, 2009

      TDCJ population still creeping up, but tracking estimates

      Here's the total number of people sent to Texas prisons and state jails on felony charges in FY 2008 from the six largest Texas counties and the number of prisoners released back to each of them, according to the Department of Criminal Justice Annual Statistical Report (pdf):

      Sent to prison:

      Harris: 15,276
      Dallas: 7,405
      Tarrant: 5,363
      Bexar: 4,669
      Travis: 3,143
      El Paso: 1,164

      Released from prison:

      Harris: 14,654
      Dallas: 7,564
      Tarrant: 5,185
      Bexar: 4,550
      Travis: 3,084
      El Paso: 1,147

      Overall, Texas sent more people to prison in FY 2008 than it released according to the report: 74,283 people entered TDCJ last year, while 72,002 were released and sent home (out of 156,126 on hand as of Aug. 31, 2008).

      TDCJ's population actually maxxed out at 158,217 on May 1, 2008, but by August that number had declined to 156,126. That's about what LBB projected (pdf), to give them credit (they'd estimated 156,137, which is pretty darn close). But the rubber will meet the road this year when LBB predicts that, by the end of FY 2009 (in August), TDCJ's population will have declined to 154,618, so it'll be interesting to see how closely their predictions hold when this year's numbers come out.

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

      Labels: LBB, TDCJ

      The United States has more people in prison than any other country

      June 18, 2009
      By Kaleem Omar

      It is one of history’s ironies that the United States, a country which takes pride in billing itself as “the land of the free,” has more people in prison than any other country in the world. The US has the highest documented incarceration rate, and total documented prison population in the world. As of year-end 2007, a record 7.2 million people were behind bars, on probation or on parole. Of the total, 2.3 million were incarcerated.

      More than 1 in 100 Americans were incarcerated at the start of 2008. The People’s Republic of China ranks second with 1.5 million, while having four times the population of the United States, thus having only about 18 per cent of the US incarceration rate.

      Russia, with a population of 168 million, has about 920,000 inmates.

      The US incarcerates people at a rate more than 15 times that of Japan, and its prison population is more than eight times that of Italy, France, the UK, Spain and Australia combined.

      The US, today, has a higher percentage of its citizenry in prison than any other country in history, and accounts for an astonishing 25 per cent of the world’s prison population.

      Incarceration in the US is a concurrent power under the Constitution of the United States, which means that prisons are operated under the strict authority of both the federal and state governments.

      Incarceration is one of the main forms of punishment for the commission of felony offences in the United States. Less serious offenders, including those convicted of misdemeanor offences, may be sentenced to a short term in a local jail or with alternative forms of sanctions such as community corrections (halfway houses), house arrest, probation and/or restitution.

      In the United States, prisons are operated at various levels of security, ranging from minimum security prisons that mainly house non- violent offenders to Supermax facilities that house well-known criminals and terrorists.

      A report published by the US Bureau of Justice Statistics points to some truths, at once staggering and damning, about the social and political conditions facing the most impoverished and oppressed sections of American society. The report found that black males from 20 to 39 years old accounted for about a third of all sentenced prison inmates under state or federal jurisdiction.

      This means 12 per cent of black men in their 20s and early 30s – more than one in ten – are in jail or prison. The report calculates that over the course of a lifetime, 28 per cent of all black men will have spent some time behind bars.

      By comparison, only 2.4 per cent of Hispanic males in the 20 to 39 age group and only 1.2 per cent of white males in the same age group were in prison. This suggests that there is a great deal of truth in the observation that in America “Driving While Black” (as opposed to “Driving While Under the Influence”) has become a criminal offence.

      The number of people in prison, in jail, on parole and on probation in the US increased threefold between 1980 and 2000 to more than 6 million. Since 1990 the US prison population has exploded, almost doubling from 1,148,702 in 1990 to 2,166,260 at the end of 2002, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report.

      These included more than 1.2 million state prison inmates, more than 151,000 in federal facilities and more than 665,000 in local jails.

      More than 110,000 individuals were incarcerated in both public and private juvenile facilities, while the immigration and customs services held more than 8,700 individuals.

      As Kate Randall noted in an article on the World Socialist Web Site, “This increase is directly related to the deepening economic slump affecting working and poor people, with the Bureau of Justice Statistics indicating that the increase is most likely due to a growth in poverty-related crimes, such as burglary.”

      The jump came at a time when a growing number of US states facing large budget deficits (due to federal social spending cuts imposed by the Bush administration) have begun trying to reduce prison costs by easing tough sentencing laws passed in the 1990s, thereby decreasing the number of inmates.

      To rub salt into states’ wounds, the social spending cuts came at a time when the Bush administration had upped US military spending to an all-time high of $ 495 billion in fiscal 2005 (beginning October 1, 2004 ) – more than the military spending of the rest of the world combined.

      Today, America’s prisons and jails brim with more than 2.3 million people, and few observers, legislators or government officials seem much bothered. Another five million individuals are “doing time” outside, as satellites of the court system, subject to unannounced visits from parole and probation officers, mandatory urine tests, home detention, or the invisible leash of electronic shackles.

      Millions more are connected to punishment from the other end, making their living directly or indirectly from the Keynesian stimulus of the nation’s lockup costs. Privately-run prisons have become the fastest growing business in America. And since the early 1980s incarceration has changed in both quantitative and qualitative terms: there are more prisons, more captives, and conditions inside are in many respects worse and more restrictive than ever.

      “The key finding in this report is this growth,” said Allen J. Beck, an author of the report. Beck is the chief prison demographer for the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the statistical arm of the US Justice Department. Increases in inmates in several of the largest states contributed to most of the national increase. Those states included California, Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania, Beck said.

      That California features prominently in this list is not surprising.

      From 1984 to 1994, California built 21 new prisons and only one state university. Its prison system got a 209 per cent increase in funding, compared to a 15 per cent increase in state university funding.

      There are nearly five million people in the US currently or permanently disenfranchised, as a result of laws that take away the voting rights of felons and ex-felons. No other democracy besides the US disenfranchises convicted offenders for life. Many democratic nations, including Denmark, France and Poland, permit prisoners to vote as well.

      More than 1.4 million African America men – 13 per cent of the adult black male population – have lost the right to vote, a rate of disenfranchisement that is seven times the national average. By comparison, in the 2000 general election about 4.8 million African American men voted.

      In Florida, the state where George W. Bush’s younger brother Jeb Bush was governor, and the state that was at the centre of the voting scandal that gave Bush the presidency in 2000, one in three African American men has permanently lost the right to vote. This helped Republican candidate George W. Bush in his presidential bid, since most African Americans traditionally vote for Democratic candidates.

      At the end of 2002, there were 2,166,260 Americans in local jails, state and federal prisons and juvenile detention facilities, the Bureau of Justice Statistics report found. California, aka “The Golden State,” had the largest number of inmates with 162,317, followed closely by Texas – former President George W. Bush’s home state – with 162,003. But since California’s population is much bigger than that of Bush’s home state, Texas, in fact, has the largest number of inmates per 100,000 of population.

      The US is not only the unchallenged world leader in the overall number of jailed people and the rate of incarceration, but also in capital punishment. The Bureau of Justice Statistics report shows there are more than 3,600 condemned inmates on death rows across the US.

      On March 19, 2003, on the eve of the Bush administration’ s invasion of Iraq, federal death row inmate Louis Jones, 53, was put to death.

      Jones was a veteran of the 1991 Gulf War, and his lawyers argued that he suffered from Gulf War Syndrome, which made him violent and drove him to rape and murder. President Bush rejected his appeal for clemency.

      Since the war on Iraq began, the state of Texas has passed a grisly landmark.

      On March 20, 2003, Keith Clay became the 300th person put to death in the state. Of the 839 individuals executed since the US Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, 301 have been sent to their death in Texas.

      George W. Bush, during his five years as Texas governor before assuming the presidency of the United States, presided over 152 of these state killings. These executions included women, the mentally impaired and those sentenced to death for crimes committed as juveniles.

      One of the largest jails in the United States is Cook County Jail in Cook County (located in Chicago). This facility has eleven different divisions.

      The United States has more people in prison than any other country

      June 08, 2009

      Econometric support for cutting prison populations

      When Texas Monthly editor Jake Silverstein asked me to contribute a "Big Idea" for the magazine's May issue on the subject, I'd offered them this provocation, crafted from material in past Grits posts:

      Texas should dramatically slash its prison population and eliminate a majority of felony crimes. We have criminalized too many different activities: Texas has 2,324 separate felonies on the books, including 11 involving oysters. From 1978 to 2008, Texas's population increased 80 percent, while the prison population increased 595 percent. If prison growth had matched population growth, around 40,000 would be in Texas prisons today - instead the number is about 155,000. Texas must stop trying to manage every social problem through the justice system and re-empower its civil courts and regulatory functions to handle more conflicts among citizens.

      My suggestion for slashing the prison population was met in some quarters with derision. "WOW!! I could not disagree more with your opinions on this issue," opined one reader. A GOP legislative staffer at the capitol told me she was shocked to see me put my name on such "radical" views.

      So I'm plesaed to be reading a new paper by UT-Austin LBJ School Professor Bill Spelman ("Crime, cash and limited options: Explaining the prison boom," Criminology & Public Policy, Vol. 8, No. 1., pp. 29-77, not online, see the abstract), confirming in laborious detail the mathematics behind the following calculation:

      Estimates vary widely, but the marginal prison bed seems to prevent somewhere between two and seven crimes, which saves potential victims between $4,000 and $19,000 per year.

      "But note the details: If each prison bed reduces costs by no more than $19,000, but costs us $20,000 to $40,000, then do we need this many beds? Clearly not, and it's not (too) difficult to use current estimates of the crime-control effectiveness of prison, the costs of crime to victims and nonvictims, and the costs of prison to show that we overshot the mark sometime in the early 1990s. Enormous cutbacks - reductions of 50% or more in the prison popoulation - are not difficult to justify and would probably save the US public billions of dollars earch year. Certainly there is little economic justification for continuing to build.

      The wide variation among estimates for crime costs prevented by prison make the cost-benefit analysis even dicier than that quote implies. $19,000 is the high end of estimated crime costs prevented by incarceration. If the true cost turns out to be closer to $4K, on the low end of the spectrum, then from an economic perpective overincarceration would seem abusrdly overemphasized.

      Spelman's analytical work on this subject ranks among the most respected on all sides of the debate. And though I've quibbled with some of the assumptions in his work, including in this paper, on the whole there's really nobody out there whose approach is both as comprehensive and data driven as what he's producing. I'll be writing more about Spelman's findings soon, perhaps after talking to Bill about his paper, just to make sure I understand his math.

      Prof. Spelman, incidentally, was previously on the Austin City Council and after a hiatus, was just re-elected to an open seat unopposed. Congrats, Bill!

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

      Labels: crime data

      May 11, 2009

      Tanking economy prompts rethinking incarceration

      As states struggle with paying for expanding prison populations in a tanking economy, Texas' 2007 diversion reforms were cited as a model in a New York Times editorial today titled "Shrinking the Prison Population":

      New prison sentencing and re-entry policies are already taking hold in several states, thanks in part to work by the Council of State Governments’ prison policy arm, the Justice Center, with the support of the Pew Charitable Trust’s Center on the States.

      Their results have been especially impressive in Texas and Kansas, law-and-order states that were facing huge increases in their prison populations before they turned to the Justice Center for analyses and policy suggestions.

      Last month, representatives from both states testified about their experience before a House appropriations subcommittee.

      State officials said that after studying the problem they found their prison populations were being driven up, not by crime, but mainly by breakdowns in their parole and probation systems.

      Simply put, they were sending too many people back to jail. Many were drug-addicted or mentally ill offenders who could be safely dealt with in community programs.

      Legislatures in both states decided to expand community-based drug treatment and mental health services, and encouraged localities to provide closer supervision for released inmates. The changes, put in place two years ago, have yielded especially strong results in Texas.

      State officials said that the new system had already reduced parole revocations by an astonishing 25 percent and helped the state avoid a projected increase in the prison population that would have cost the Texas treasury hundreds of millions of dollars.

      Of course, Texas still can't afford to pay for the prison system we've got, but without the initiative described in the op ed, the problem would by now have reached crisis levels. See this analysis from the Justice Reinvestment Project on the impact of Texas' 2007 reforms (pdf).

      Relatedly, in Ohio they're debating whether to reduce the prison population abruptly by more than 10% because they can't afford to pay for incarceration. Doc Berman points to news from the Buckeye state that:

      With a near-record 50,919 inmates behind bars as of May 4, Gov. Ted Strickland said he has no choice but to start releasing people because the state can't afford it. His proposal isn't just a scare tactic.

      Ohio lawmakers are considering sweeping prison reform in which prisoners will be sent to live in halfway houses in communities -- or be paroled to a house down the block.

      Many more will never set foot in a prison under a proposal to amend sentencing laws so some crimes are no longer considered serious enough to warrant prison.

      Strickland predicts his proposed changes could reduce the prison population by 6,736 indefinitely and save state taxpayers almost $28 million per year.

      Mass incarceration is a rich country's game, with the United States accounting for 5% of the planet's population but 25% of its prisoners. Forcing states to rethink draconian incarceration policies could turn out to be a silver lining amongst the economic storm clouds. I predict that over the next few years, with the economy feeling the pinch, more states will be forced to get serious about reducing prison populations, which were already too large and expensive before the economy dipped.

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

      May 11, 2009


      Shrinking the Prison Population

      Congress took an important step last year when it passed the Second Chance Act to help former inmates return to their communities. If properly financed and carried out, the act could cut recidivism, and ruinous prison costs for the states, by helping them develop programs to provide job placement, drug treatment, mental health care and other services that former prisoners need to build viable, crime-free lives.

      Congress does not have to look far for proven programs. New prison sentencing and re-entry policies are already taking hold in several states, thanks in part to work by the Council of State Governments’ prison policy arm, the Justice Center, with the support of the Pew Charitable Trust’s Center on the States.

      Their results have been especially impressive in Texas and Kansas, law-and-order states that were facing huge increases in their prison populations before they turned to the Justice Center for analyses and policy suggestions. Last month, representatives from both states testified about their experience before a House appropriations subcommittee.

      State officials said that after studying the problem they found their prison populations were being driven up, not by crime, but mainly by breakdowns in their parole and probation systems.

      Simply put, they were sending too many people back to jail. Many were drug-addicted or mentally ill offenders who could be safely dealt with in community programs.

      Legislatures in both states decided to expand community-based drug treatment and mental health services, and encouraged localities to provide closer supervision for released inmates. The changes, put in place two years ago, have yielded especially strong results in Texas. State officials said that the new system had already reduced parole revocations by an astonishing 25 percent and helped the state avoid a projected increase in the prison population that would have cost the Texas treasury hundreds of millions of dollars.

      With the economy in recession, and prison costs rising, states that used to lock up as many inmates as possible are looking for sensible alternatives. President Obama has asked Congress to commit more than $100 million to prisoner re-entry programs, with three-quarters going to the Second Chance Act. That would be a good down payment, but only a down payment, on what is needed.

      Shrinking the Prison Population

      Prison Nation

      By David C. Fathi
      Director of the US Program
      APRIL 9, 2009

      It's become a depressingly predictable event. Every few months, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), a branch of the US Department of Justice, releases new figures showing that the US prison and jail population has grown yet again and has reached a new all-time high.

      The latest statistics, released last week, show that as of June 30, 2008, more than 2.3 million people were behind bars in this country -- an increase of almost 20 percent just since 2000. This gives the United States an incarceration rate of 762 per 100,000 residents -- the highest rate in the world, dwarfing those of other democracies like Great Britain (152 per 100,000), Canada (116), and Japan (63).

      Of course incarceration doesn't affect everyone equally. Black men in the United States are 6.6 times more likely than white men to be incarcerated. More than 10 percent of all black males ages 25 to 39 were in prison or jail as of June 30, 2008. And a 2006 BJS study showed that prisons and jails have become the new asylums, with more than half of all prisoners suffering from mental health problems like major depression and psychotic disorders.

      It wasn't always like this. For much of the 20th century, the US incarceration rate remained fairly stable. It began to climb sharply in the late 1970s, as a result of policy changes like mandatory minimum sentencing and the widespread abolition of parole. In the 1980s and 1990s, the "war on drugs" and "three strikes" laws fueled further growth. More people were going to prison, and staying there for longer periods of time. By 2004, the incarcerated population was six times what it had been in 1972.

      Contrary to popular belief, the growing prison population has little or nothing to do with an increase in crime. In fact, crime rates fell steadily between 1991 and 2006, eventually reaching levels not seen since the 1960s. Yet the incarceration rate increased by more than 50 percent in that same period. It's clear, then, that political choice, not crime, has given the United States its massive prison and jail population.

      Indeed, even within the United States, not all states have chosen the same path. Louisiana, the state with the highest incarceration rate, locks up more than six times as many of its residents on a per capita basis as Maine. Even neighboring states can differ dramatically - Wisconsin imprisons people at twice the rate of Minnesota, and Arizona's rate is more than double Utah's. These state-by-state differences make clear that there is nothing natural or inevitable about high incarceration rates. They are the result of specific policy choices, and those policies can be changed.

      There are signs that change may be on the way. Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), long a critic of America's love affair with incarceration, has called the US criminal justice system "a national disgrace" and urged "a major nationwide recalculation of who goes to prison and for how long." On March 26, he led a bipartisan group of Senators in introducing the National Criminal Justice Commission Act of 2009.

      The bill would create a blue-ribbon commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system, and make recommendations for changes in policies and laws to "reduce the overall incarceration rate while preserving public safety, cost-effectiveness, and societal fairness."

      Our dysfunctional criminal justice system has been a long time in the making, and no one should have any illusions that it will be fixed overnight. But a National Criminal Justice Commission would be an important first step toward ending our shameful status as the world's leading prison nation.



      The policy that keeps on failing

      Marlene Martin, national director of the Campaign to End the Death Penalty, looks at a study that exposes the consequences of the politicians' "tough on crime" hysteria.

      March 9, 2009

      The race to incarcerate has led to drastically overcrowded prisons ONE IN every 31 adults in the U.S. is in prison or jail or on parole or probation. That's 7.3 million people--or more than the populations of Chicago, Philadelphia, San Diego and Dallas put together.

      These statistics-- from a study released by the Pew Center on the States titled "One in 31: The Long Reach of American Corrections" -- are the consequence of this country's 30 years of tough-on-crime policies.

      Not surprisingly, the "long reach" doesn't reach everybody evenly-- African Americans suffer the brunt of the system. According to Pew study, one in 11 African American adults are under the control of the corrections system, compared with one in 27 Latinos and one in 45 whites. Southern states continue to have the highest incarceration rates.

      And while the U.S. incarcerates its population in staggering numbers compared to other industrialized countries, its crime rates aren't lower. On the contrary, they are higher, especially violent crime rates.

      The astronomical growth in incarceration began in the 1970s and has continued to the present day, largely as a result of "tough on crime" policies implemented by political leaders who found this appeal to be helpful in winning elections. As the social movements of the 1960s and early 1970s faded, this rhetoric took hold and was manifested in policies that required stiffer and longer sentences for any crime.

      One aspect was the "war on drugs," which imposed harsh punishments on nonviolent drug offenders. According to an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, by 1994, the drug war was responsible for sending 1 million Americans to prison every year.

      Meanwhile, harsh sentencing policies took their toll. California introduced a "three strikes and you're out" law, which required that anyone convicted of any third felony, no matter how petty, be sentenced to 25 years to life sentence--the policy quickly spread to other states. Federal parole was eliminated in the 1980s, and most states passed mandatory minimum sentencing laws, making it impossible for judges to impose a lighter sentence or divert someone into treatment rather than prison.

      These are the reasons why the U.S. prison population took off--not, as some might imagine, because of an increase in crime. As the Pew study notes:

      The explosive prison growth of the past 30 years didn't happen by accident and wasn't driven primarily by crime rates or broad social and economic forces beyond the reach of state government. It was the direct result of sentencing, release and other correctional policies that determine who goes to prison and how long they stay.

      - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

      THE PEW study also points out that states are paying the price-- literally--for these unjust policies.

      According to the study, state government spending on corrections outpaced other essential government services, from education to transportation to public assistance-- only Medicaid spending grew faster. "States spent a record $51.7 billion on corrections in 2008, or one in every 15 general fund dollars," the study reports. "Adding local, federal and other funding brings the national correctional spending total to $68 billion."

      In studying 34 states, Pew researchers found that it cost 22 times more money per day to incarcerate people than to supervise them in the community--the cost per prisoner is, on average, $29,000 a year. As a result, $9 out of every $10 spent on corrections goes to prisons.

      Pressured in part by rapidly increasing budget deficits, some politicians are starting to support diverting money from prisons to community supervision and drug treatment programs for nonviolent property- and drug-related crimes.

      Thus, New York's notorious Rockefeller Drug Laws are headed toward reform. Enacted in the 1970s, these laws imposed prison sentences of 10, 15 and 20 years on people found guilty of low-level drug offenses--even if it was their first conviction. A bill to repeal these laws has passed the State Assembly and is under consideration in the Senate.

      We certainly need to shift away from the lock-em-up-and- throw-away- the-key approach to dealing with the problems of crime. But it's shortsighted to think this is all we need.

      With the economic crisis spreading, and poverty and unemployment on the rise, crime rates can be expected to go up. As the Pew Center researchers point out, this means that resources in the community have to be expanded, not curtailed.

      But under the pressure of state budget crises, the opposite is happening. Washington state, for example, is considering cutting half of all beds in drug treatment facilities, and lawmakers in Florida have proposed cutting 3 million people from drug treatment programs.

      The real solution to crime isn't the construction of more prisons or more community parole supervisors- -but the construction of a society that provides good-paying jobs, youth programs, child care, health care and help for those who need it.

      The Policy Keeps Failing

      March 08, 2009

      More guards, more prisons, or fewer prisoners: Bill expanding drug treatment makes third option possible

      In the medium run, the Texas Legislature has two options for managing its prison population - build more prisons and increase pay so they can hire sufficient staff, or reduce the number of prisoners so the Department of Criminal Justice can safely guard the inmates it's got.

      This week we received mixed signals on the pay front, with the Senate suggesting a 20% pay hike for guards while the House removed pay increases from the budget and put them on their "wish list." The issue won't be decided until the conference committee on the budget.

      If pay hikes don't happen, that leaves reducing the inmate population.

      The good news on that front is that the Legislative Budget Board projects (see p. 14 of the pdf) that Texas' prison population will decline in fiscal year 2009 for the first time in many, many years. LBB says Texas will incarcerate 2,000 fewer inmates by the beginning of FY 2010, but after that, the prison population will slowly begin to increase again, exceeding capacity by 2013. If that's accurate, the Whitmire/Madden reforms of 2005 and 2007 bought the state a little time, but have only put off the prison overcrowding problem, not eliminated it.

      That's one reason why I was glad to see an excellent bipartisan bill filed in the Senate aimed at building on recent years' reforms. SB 1118 boasts five primary authors - Senators Ellis, Carona, Deuell, Hegar, and Whitmire - and would reduce the number of low-level drug offenders cycling in and out of prison. It proposes a substantial shift away from imprisonment for petty drug possession felonies and toward using probation and treatment for those offenses. It's a bit of a complex bill, but here are the highlights:

      If approved, for third degree drug felonies (1-4 grams of a controlled substance) and lower, "the judge shall suspend the imposition of the sentence and place the defendant on community supervision, " except that the judge "may" send them to prison if they determine by a preponderance of the evidence that:

      ^ The defendant is a danger to the safety of others,
      ^The defendant has a prior conviction
      (excluding drug possession or a violation of the Transportation Code),
      ^The defendant is convicted in the same proceeding for an additional offense
      (excluding drug possession or a violation of the Transportation Code), or
      ^ The judge determines after an "evidence-based assessment" that that the defendant is unlikely to benefit from participation in a drug treatment program, and then only if they have been convicted in two or more occasions of drug possession or discharged unsuccessfully from a drug court program.

      Defendants whose sentences are suspended must "submit to an evidence-based risks and needs screening and evaluation procedure" approved by TDCJ, and if the evaluation indicates the need, submit to a course of drug treatment that may include:

      > treatment in a faith-based program
      > outpatient treatment
      > halfway house treatment
      > narcotic replacement therapy
      > drug education or prevention courses, and
      > inpatient or residential treatment

      A court can also order the defendant to participate in vocational training, family counseling, literacy training, or community service.

      The bill gives judges plenty of options, including incarceration, for dealing with offenders who won't comply with their probation terms. One goodie for judges whose overcrowded county jails may limit short-term incarceration for probation: The bill authorizes using TDCJ-run "intermediate sanction facilities" for up to 120 days for probation violators. Those state-run are presently only used for parole.

      Another interesting twist: After the successful completion of their probation term and a drug treatment program, the defendant may petition the court for dismissal of their charges.

      This legislation would affect significant chunk of Texas' drug cases; as noted recently, among Texas' state jail felons incarcerated for drug offenses, 87.3% are in for possession of less than a gram of a controlled substance according to TDCJ, while 58.6% of more serious drug cases were possession-only offenses, not for "distribution."

      I'm optimistic about prospects for this legislation, which builds on prior, successful legislative initiatives which demonstrably averted what, not long ago, was a looming, California-style prison overcrowding crisis. Removing small-time drug possession defendants from prison and shifting them to less expensive, more effective treatment programs would help solidify the prison population reduction LBB projects for next year, avoiding billions in costs for more prisons and guards in the budget-strapped years ahead.

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

      1 in 22 adult Texans in corrections programs

      By Mike Ward
      March 3, 2009

      Texas details from a new study released yesterday by the Pew Center on the States:

      1 of every 22 adults in Texas is in prison, on parole or probation.

      The national average is 1 in 33.

      Texas, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts and Ohio had the highest percentages of adults under correctional supervision.

      In Texas, that amounts to 797,254 people — slightly more folks than were estimated to live in Austin in the 2007 U.S. Census update.

      In the United States, the number of people on probation or parole nearly doubled to more than 5 million from 1982 to 2007. The total population of the U.S. corrections system now exceeds 7.3 million.

      Bottom line: As Texas and other states lock more offenders in prison, they spend more taxpayer dollars to do so. And while state prison costs continue to increase, in tight budget times, states will have to make tough decisions about whether to continue growing their corrections systems at the expense of education, social programs and other areas of the budget.

      In Texas, amid concern about that issue, lawmakers two years ago voted to greatly expand addiction-treatment and rehabilitation programs rather than build expensive new prisons.

      So far, Senate and House leaders said last week, that initiative seems to be paying off — as the growth of the prison population in Texas has leveled off in recent months.

      Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

      1 in 22 adult Texans in corrections programs

      In 2007, 40% of all sentenced federal offenders were Latino, report says

      From the Los Angeles Times

      In 1991, Latinos made up 24% of all sentenced offenders. The change is attributed to the rise in the number of illegal immigrants and in federal immigration crackdowns, the Pew Research Center says.

      By Anna Gorman
      February 19, 2009

      Driven by a crackdown on illegal immigration, Latinos now make up by far the largest percentage of offenders sentenced in federal courts, according to a study released Wednesday.

      Latinos accounted for 40% of all people sentenced to federal crimes in 2007, even though they made up only 13% of the U.S. adult population, according to the study by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center. In 1991, Latinos made up 24% of all sentenced offenders.

      The study's authors, Mark Hugo Lopez and Michael T. Light, attribute the change in part to the increase in the undocumented immigrant population and to federal enforcement programs such as Operation Gatekeeper, which targeted illegal crossers along the Southwest border.

      In 2007, nearly half of Latino offenders were sentenced for an immigration offense, up from 1 in 5 in 1991. Immigration offenses represented nearly a quarter of all federal convictions in 2007, up from 7% in 1991.

      "There was a very sharp rise of immigration offenses as a share of all offenses," said Paul Taylor, executive vice president of the Pew Research Center.

      Among those sentenced for immigration offenses in 2007, 80% were Latino, according to the report.

      The study, which relied on data from U.S. Sentencing Commission statistics, analyzed the ethnic makeup and citizenship status of offenders sentenced in federal courts in the U.S. from 1991 to 2007.

      From 1991 to 2007, the total number of offenders sentenced in federal courts more than doubled, while the number of Latino offenders nearly quadrupled. Nevertheless, federal courts accounted for a very small portion -- 6% -- of all sentenced felons in the U.S.

      More than half of all Latino offenders in 2007 were sentenced at one of five courts in Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico, all near the U.S.-Mexico border. The sentences for Latinos in 2007 were generally shorter than for other ethnic groups -- 46 months, compared with 91 months for blacks and 62 months for whites.

      The study shows that the government "is making more of an effort to try to go after people who have repeatedly come to the U.S. illegally," said Ira Mehlman, spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform.

      "It is going to take some time and some investment to show that they are serious about immigration enforcement," he said. "But it does have a long-term deterrent effect."

      But Wendy Sefsaf, communications manager for the Immigration Policy Center, believes the report illustrates the failure of the government's enforcement- only immigration policies and how they are clogging the courts and prisons, she said.

      "We are just locking up people who are not criminals, who are undocumented workers," she said. "We are pulling resources away from prosecuting serious criminals."

      There are an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., up from about 4 million in 1992. Among all Latino offenders, 72% were not U.S. citizens.

      Three quarters of the immigration offenders were convicted of unlawfully entering or remaining in the U.S. Just under 20% were convicted of smuggling, transporting or harboring an illegal immigrant.


      In 2007, 40% of all sentenced federal offenders were Latino, report says


      Incarceration is not an equal opportunity punishment

      On December 31, 2005, there were 2,193,798 people in U.S. prisons and jails.

      The United States incarcerates a greater share of its population, 737 per 100,000 residents, than any other country on the planet. But when you break down the statistics you see that incarceration is not an equal opportunity punishment.

      U.S. incarceration rates by race, June 30, 2006:

      Whites: 409 per 100,000
      Latinos: 1,038 per 100,000
      Blacks: 2,468 per 100,000
      Gender is an important "filter" on the who goes to prison or jail, June 30, 2006:

      Females: 134 per 100,000
      Males: 1,384 per 100,000

      Look at just the males by race, and the incarceration rates become even more frightening, June 30, 2006:

      White males: 736 per 100,000
      Latino males: 1,862 per 100,000
      Black males: 4,789 per 100,000

      If you look at males aged 25-29 and by race, you can see what is going on even clearer, June 30, 2006:

      For White males ages 25-29: 1,685 per 100,000.
      For Latino males ages 25-29: 3,912 per 100,000.
      For Black males ages 25-29: 11,695 per 100,000.
      (That's 11.7% of Black men in their late 20s.)

      Or you can make some international comparisons:

      South Africa under Apartheid was internationally condemned as a racist society.

      South Africa under apartheid (1993), Black males: 851 per 100,000 U.S. under George Bush (2006), Black males: 4,789 per 100,000.

      What does it mean that the leader of the "free world" locks up its Black males at a rate 5.8 times higher than the most openly racist country in the world?

      Statistics as of June 30, 2006 from Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 2006, Table 14.

      The "rates by race" statistics are calculated from the component parts of Table 14.

      South Africa figures from Marc Mauer, Americans Behind Bars: The International Use of Incarceration.

      All references to Blacks and Whites are for what the Bureau of Justice Statistics and U.S. Census refer to as "non-Hispanic Blacks" and "non-Hispanic Whites".)

      View the above facts with charts or download the above as a 1 page PDF file suitable for redistribution.

      Prison Sucks


      The U.S. criminal justice system is collapsing

      By Paul Craig Roberts
      Online Journal Contributing Writer
      Dec 18, 2008

      The Christmas season is a time to remember the unfortunate, among whom are those who have been wrongly convicted.

      In the United States, the country with the largest prison population in the world, the number of wrongly convicted is very large. Hardly any felony charges are resolved with trials. The vast majority of defendants, both innocent and guilty, are coerced into plea bargains.

      Not only are the innocent framed, but the guilty as well. It is quicker and less expensive to frame the guilty than to convict them on the evidence.

      Many Americans are wrongfully convicted, because they trust the justice system. They naively believe that police and prosecutors are moved by evidence and have a sense of justice. The trust they have in authorities makes them easy victims of a system that has no moral conscience and is untroubled by the injustice it perpetrates.

      Lt. William Strong, son of a military family, tired of his wife’s unfaithfulness and filed for divorce. The unfaithful wife retaliated by accusing Strong of rape. There was no evidence of rape, but Strong was deceived into a plea bargain. Once Strong entered a plea, he was double-crossed and given 60 years.

      Christophe Gaynor took an adolescent skateboard team to New York City for a competition. One of the kids attempted to buy illicit drugs. Gaynor threatened to tell the boy’s parents, and the boy preempted Gaynor by accusing him of sexual molestation.

      Gaynor was openly framed in the Arlington, Virginia, court system.

      Americans, or perhaps more accurately some Americans, were horrified by the photographs showing the torture of Iraqi detainees in Abu Ghraib by the US military. The Senate Armed Services Committee has issued a report which concludes that the torture policy originated at the highest level of the Bush administration. Those Americans with a moral conscience have reeled under further revelations -- the torture of Guantanamo detainees, the transport of people seized by US authorities to Third World countries to be tortured.

      We have to ask ourselves why American service men and women and CIA operatives delight in torturing people about whom they know nothing? It has been well known since the Stalin era that torture never produces accurate information. Yet, US soldiers and CIA personnel jumped at the green light given to torture by President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, and the US Department of Justice. Why weren’t our soldiers shocked instead at the immorality of their leaders?

      One answer is that the US military no longer operates according to a code of honor. Military discipline in the traditional sense does not exist. The ethos of the US military has degenerated into kick-ass macho. Major General Taguba, who, instead of covering up the Abu Ghraib scandal, attempted in his report to hold the US military to its traditional principles, was forced to resign from the US Army.

      Another answer is that the work of torture, like police work and prosecutorial work, attracts brutal people who enjoy inflicting harm on others. The two Republican female US attorneys in Alabama who framed Democratic Governor Siegelman enjoyed ruining Siegelman and bringing grief to his family.

      Deborah Davies of the BBC’s Channel 4 undertook a four-month investigation of the torture of American prisoners inside American prisons. Videos taken by sadistic prison guards and videos recovered from surveillance cameras reveal horrible acts of torture and even of murder of prisoners by prison guards.

      An American prison reformer told Deborah Davies: “We’ve become immune to the abuse. The brutality has become customary.”

      Few Americans seem to be disturbed as these inhumane and illegal practices continue unabated. Americans continue to see themselves as the salt of the earth, the “indispensable people.”

      “Law and order conservatives” have a great responsibility for this evil. Just as “law and order conservatives” created hysteria among the people about crime, they created hysteria about terrorists. Hysterical people condone great evils and arm government with power in the mistaken belief that it will protect them.

      What kind of people have we become when we exercise no oversight over a criminal justice [sic] system that destroys the lives of innocent people and locks them away in prisons to be tortured by sadistic guards?

      Paul Craig Roberts [email him] was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury during President Reagan’s first term. He was Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal. He has held numerous academic appointments, including the William E. Simon Chair, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Georgetown University, and Senior Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. He was awarded the Legion of Honor by French President Francois Mitterrand. He is the author of Supply-Side Revolution : An Insider’s Account of Policymaking in Washington; Alienation and the Soviet Economy and Meltdown: Inside the Soviet Economy, and is the co-author with Lawrence M. Stratton of The Tyranny of Good Intentions : How Prosecutors and Bureaucrats Are Trampling the Constitution in the Name of Justice. Click here for Peter Brimelow’s Forbes Magazine interview with Roberts about the recent epidemic of prosecutorial misconduct.

      Copyright © 1998-2007 Online Journal

      The U.S. criminal justice system is collapsing

      Webb Assails U.S. Incarceration Policy

      Written by Nicholas F. Benton
      December 11, 2008

      The 2.25 million Americans now incarcerated in U.S. prisons is "a staggering statistic, from the standpoints of fairness, cost of incarceration and cost of lost opportunities, " Virginia U.S. Senator James Webb said during his keynote remarks to a conference on "Prison to Work: A Proposal for a National Prisoner Reentry Program" hosted by the Brookings Institution' s Hamilton Project last week at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

      Webb noted that in addition to 2.25 million in prison, seven million are involved in the criminal justice system, either on probation or parole. He's a co-sponsor of the "Second Chance Act" that provides job training and drug treatment for ex-offenders, and the "Gang Abatement and Prevention Act" that provides $1 billion over five years.

      He said that 25 years ago, he was the first American journalist allowed into the prisons of Japan to study the system there, and has been astonished ever since when comparing the low rate of imprisonment and re-incarceration there, and in European countries, compared to the U.S., especially since 1980. At the time he was in Japan, Japan had half the total population of the U.S., but only 40,000 in prison, compared to 750,000 in the U.S. at that time.

      But the explosion of the U.S. prison population began around 1980, resulting in the 2.25 million total today.

      In his document on proposing a national prisoner re-entry program, author Bruce Western wrote, "The American penal system has grown continuously for the past 35 years. Spending on corrections now totals $70 billion each year. Among men born since the late 1960s, 30 percent of blacks without college education and six percent of whites without college education have spent time in prison, over half serving more than two years for a felony conviction. After release, ex-prisoners experience reduced rates of employment, wages and wage growth, and elevated risks of divorce and separation. Two-thirds are re-arrested within three years, and one-fourth return to prison during that time."

      In his comments, Webb assailed the racial component of U.S. incarceration statistics, noting that while African-Americans are 13 percent of the total population, they are more than 50 percent of the prison population. In Virginia, African-Americans are 19 percent of the total population, and 63 percent of the prison population. "There is real racism in the criminal justice system," he said. "It is a barrier to creating jobs and housing."

      He noted that when a young person enters the prison system, "he enters a hell in which he'll never return" affecting his future chances in life permanently.

      The Japanese model, he said, differentiates sharply between non- violent crimes and between first offenders and repeat offenders. In the U.S. system, distinctions between violent crimes, drug abuse and mental illness need to be made, he said, adding that mental illness is the cause of incarceration for many people, but "it is not a crime."

      He said the "dominant political ideology" of the last 25 years has contributed to the current "mass incarceration" problem in the U.S. "Political fear and ideology have too long driven policy in this area," he noted, but now, "People want their new political leadership to say what's gone wrong, and to begin fixing it."

      He said that some specific legislative proposals will be introduced in the coming year.

      In his Hamilton Project report, Western recommends reform in four areas: 1. more training and educational programs in prisons, 2. better transitional services upon release from prison, including a proposed mandatory year of community service, 3. parole reform that limits revocation of parole for technical, not criminal, violations, and 4. the elimination of collateral consequences, including bans from eligibility for housing, food stamps, student loans and other benefits that have no public safety consequences.

      U.S. Incarceration Policy

      One in Every 31 U.S. Adults Were in Prison or Jail or on Probation or Parole in 2007

      Posted 11 December 2008

      -- More than 7.3 million men and women were under correctional supervision in the nation's prisons or jails or on probation or parole at yearend 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today. About 3.2 percent of the U.S. adult population, or one in every 31 adults, was incarcerated or under community supervision at the end of 2007. This percentage has remained stable since reaching more than 3 percent in 1999.

      About 70 percent (5.1 million) of the adults under correctional supervision at yearend 2007 were supervised in the community (either on probation or parole), and 30 percent (2.3 million) were incarcerated in the nation's prisons or jails. Offenders held in custody in state or federal prisons or local jails increased by 1.5 percent since yearend 2006. The population under community supervision (either on probation or parole) increased 2.1 percent.

      State and federal correctional authorities had jurisdiction or legal authority over nearly 1.6 million prisoners, an increase of 1.8 percent since yearend 2006. Though the number of prisoners increased, the rate of growth, compared to the average annual growth from 2000 to 2006, slowed by 0.2 percent. The imprisonment rate continued to increase, reaching 506 persons per 100,000 U.S. residents.

      During 2007, the federal prison population experienced the largest absolute increase of 6,572 prisoners, followed by Florida (5,250), Kentucky (2,457), and Arizona (1,945). Combined, these increases resulted in 59 percent of the overall change in the U.S. prison population.

      Federal prisons operated at 136 percent of capacity in 2007. State prisons operated between 96 percent of highest capacity and 113 percent of lowest capacity, compared to between 100 percent and 115 percent in 2000. This trend indicates that prison populations are increasing at the same rate of capacity.

      More than eight in 10 offenders supervised in the community at yearend 2007 were on probation (4,293,163), while less than two in 10 offenders were on parole (824,365). About one in every 45 adults in the U.S. was on probation or parole at the end of the year.

      The total community supervision population grew by 103,100 offenders during 2007. While the parole population (up 3.2 percent) increased at a faster pace than probation (up 1.8 percent) in 2007, probation accounted for three-quarters (77,800) of the growth in offenders under community supervision.

      Entries to probation supervision (2.4 million) exceeded exits from supervision (2.3 million) in 2007. Similarly, entries to parole supervision (555,900) also exceeded exits from parole (531,400) during 2007. A total of 1,180,469 parolees were at risk of being re- incarcerated in 2007, which included those under parole supervision on January 1 or who entered parole during the year. Of these parolees, about 16 percent were re-incarcerated in 2007.

      The report, Prisoners in 2007 (NCJ-224280) , was written by BJS statisticians Heather C. West and William J. Sabol, Ph.D., and Probation and Parole in the United States, 2007 - Statistical Tables (NCJ- 224707) was prepared by BJS statisticians Lauren E. Glaze and Thomas P. Bonczar. Following publication, Prisoners in 2007 can be found at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/p07.htm and Probation and Parole in the United States, 2007 - Statistical Tables can be found at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/abstract/ppus07st.htm.

      For additional information about the Bureau of Justice Statistics' statistical reports and programs, please visit the BJS Web site at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs.

      The Office of Justice Programs (OJP), headed by Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey L. Sedgwick, provides federal leadership in developing the nation's capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist victims. OJP has five component bureaus: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; and the Office for Victims of Crime. In addition, OJP has two program offices: the Community Capacity Development Office, which incorporates the Weed and Seed strategy, and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART) Office.

      More information can be found at http://www.ojp.gov.

      * OJP and its component agencies' press releases are available for use without restriction.

      SOURCE Bureau of Justice Statistics - US Department of Justice

      One in Every 31 U.S. Adults



      The United States imprisons almost one in one hundred American adults - a higher number and percentage of its population than any other country, according to a February 29, 2008 Washington Post article.

      This has been especially devastating for minorities-as the Post points out, "(o)ne in nine black men ages 20 to 34 is behind bars."

      Many of these people remain in a continual pattern of crime.

      Are we a safer society as a result, or should we re-evaluate our crime policies?

      When I was in college, Johnnie Cochran gave a talk in which he asked whether we are doing a service to the country by building a land of barbed wire and concrete "from sea to shining sea." There is a psychological and social effect that has been pointed out by Ayn Rand, who argued (astutely) that social control is easier if we create a nation of criminals. Many statutes do not prevent crimes; they create them. Drug laws are a perfect example: drug use infringes on no one's rights; it is the essence of a "victimless crime."

      Some might respond that there is no such thing as a "victimless crime" because of the effects of drug use on the user's friends and families. These costs are all too real as the legacy of families torn apart by drug abuse suggests. If we are going to adopt this utilitarian line of reasoning, though, then we have to weigh the costs to families against the social costs created by the unintended consequences of the war on drugs.

      The drug war is an integral part of the rapidly growing American prison population. Outlawing marijuana, cocaine, heroin, and other drugs created a whole new class of crimes and moved traffic in psychoactive drugs out of the legitimate marketplace and into the black market.

      Another one of the unintended consequences of the drug war is the escalating potency of the drugs people use today. The marijuana on the streets today is much more potent than the marijuana that was on the streets thirty and forty years ago. As penalties have changed, so too have the drugs people use. Cocaine became more prevalent after the government cracked down on heroin in the 1970s. The crack epidemic was in part a response to attempts to eradicate cocaine, and the crystal meth epidemic of the last decade has happened in part in response to the war on crack. Criminal penalties give people incentives to pack as much potency into as small a space as possible; therefore, drug dealers have incentives to increase the potency of the drugs they deal.

      Yet other examples of the unintended consequence of the drug war are the extremely low quality of the drugs that appear on the street and the violent means that drug dealers use to settle disputes. Someone who buys bad aspirin has legal recourse against the company that sold it to him. Someone who buys bad heroin or bad crack has no such legal recourse, and disputes over quality will be settled violently, if at all. Epidemics of urban crime are among the unintended consequences of the drug war.

      It appears that we learned nothing from our experiment with alcohol prohibition in the first part of the twentieth century. When alcohol was outlawed, alcohol production and distribution were taken over by organized criminal syndicates - think Al Capone - and crime skyrocketed.

      Prison is not the answer. In a recent set of lectures given on behalf of the Institute for Humane Studies, Georgetown University legal scholar John Hasnas argued in favor of restitution as opposed to incarceration and statutory law. Hasnas argued that people are not necessarily reformed while in prisons and jails. They learn to be better criminals. They attach themselves to larger criminal networks.

      After some of the horrible experiences of prison-like prison rape, for example-still others are likely to become even more withdrawn and antisocial. The current system isn't working.

      Proponents of law and order might see this as bleeding-heart, soft-on-crime liberalism. I agree that crime should be punished; indeed, a strong legal system is essential for a well-functioning society. To take one example, it has been argued by legal scholar Richard Posner (and I agree) that the penalties for drunken driving are not nearly severe enough. It is quite another matter, however, to argue that our current system is doing what it was meant to do. It is time to re-examine our drug policy.

      Reported By: The November Coalition.

      An Estimated 809,800 Inmates in the Nation's Prisons
      Were Parents to 1,706,600 Minor Children at Midyear 2007

      Aug. 26, 2008

      PRNewswire- USNewswire via COMTEX

      An estimated 809,800 prisoners of the 1,518,535 held in the nation's prison at midyear 2007 were parents of minor children, according to a report by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS).

      Parents in prison -? 52 percent of state inmates and 63 percent of federal inmates -? reported having an estimated 1,706,600 minor children. Among state inmates, the percent of parents in prison decreased from 55 percent in 1997 but has remained stable for federal inmates.

      About 2.3 percent of the 74 million children in the U.S. resident population who were under the age of 18 on July 1, 2007, had a parent in prison.

      Black and Hispanic children were about eight and three times, respectively, more likely than white children to have a parent in prison. Among minor children in the U.S. resident population, 6.7 percent of black children, 2.4 percent of Hispanic children, and 0.9 percent of white children had a parent in prison.

      State inmates who were parents reported that nearly a quarter of their children were age four or younger and reported having two children on average.

      Among fathers in state and federal prisons, more than four in 10 were black, about three in 10 were white, and about two in 10 were Hispanic. Among mothers, 48 percent were white, 28 percent were black, and 17 percent were Hispanic.

      State inmates age 25 to 34 (64 percent) were most likely to report being a parent, those age 55 or older (13 percent) were the least likely.

      Hispanic (57 percent) and black (54 percent) state inmates were more likely to report being a parent than white (46 percent) inmates. Findings were similar among men held in state prison, while the likelihood of being a parent did not vary by race among women.

      Among male state inmates, public-order (60 percent) and drug (59 percent) offenders were more likely than violent (47 percent) and property (48 percent) offenders to be fathers.

      In state prison, inmates with a criminal history (53 percent) were more likely to report being a parent than those without a criminal history (48 percent).

      About two-thirds (64 percent) of mothers held in state prison and nearly half (47 percent) of fathers reported living with their minor children either in the month before arrest or just prior to incarceration.

      Among state inmates, mothers (42 percent) were two and a half times more likely than fathers (17 percent) to report living in a single-parent household in the month before their arrest.

      Among parents living with their minor children prior to incarceration, more than three-quarters (77 percent) of mothers compared to just over a quarter (26 percent) of fathers reported providing most of the daily care of their children.

      More than half of mothers (52 percent) and fathers (54 percent) held in state prison reported providing primary financial support to their minor children.

      Eighty-five percent of mothers and 78 percent of fathers in state prison reported having contact with a child (minor or adult) since admission to prison. About half (47 percent) of parents who expected to be released within six months reported at least weekly contact compared to 39 percent with 12 to 59 months, and 32 percent with 60 or more months.

      Among parents in state prison, nine percent reported homelessness in the year before arrest, 20 percent had a history of physical or sexual abuse, 41 percent had a current medical problem, 57 percent had a mental health problem, and 67 percent met the criteria for substance dependence or abuse.

      Seven in ten parents in state prison who met the criteria for substance dependence or abuse reported ever being in a program or receiving treatment for alcohol or drug abuse;
      more than four in 10 received treatment since admission.

      Forty-six percent of parents who had a mental health problem reported ever having treatment; 31 percent had received treatment since admission.

      Among parents held in state prison, over half (57 percent) had attended self-help or improvement classes since admission. Mothers (27 percent) were about two and a half times more likely than fathers (11 percent) to attend parenting or child-rearing classes.

      The majority (52 percent) of parents in state prison reported that they had served 12 to 59 months. Mothers (38 percent) were more likely than fathers (21 percent) to report having served fewer than 12 months. More than six in 10 mothers held in state prison expected to be released in less than 12 months; compared to four in 10 fathers.

      The report, Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children (NCJ 222984), was written by BJS statisticians Lauren E. Glaze and Laura M. Maruschak.

      Following publication, the report can be found at:

      For additional information about
      the Bureau of Justice Statistics'
      statistical reports and programs,
      please visit the BJS Web site at

      The Office of Justice Programs, headed by Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey L. Sedgwick, provides federal leadership in developing the nation's capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist victims. OJP has five component bureaus: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; and the Office for Victims of Crime. Additionally, OJP has two program offices: the Community Capacity Development Office, which incorporates the Weed and Seed strategy, and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering, and Tracking (SMART).

      SOURCE Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs
      More information can be found at: http://www.ojp.gov

      An Estimated 809,800 Inmates

      AUGUST 22, 2008

      Texas Criminal Justice By the Numbers

      Just a few bits of telling data about Texas' criminal justice system compiled from prior Grits posts:

      Proportion of Texas adults under control of the criminal justice system (in prison, jail, on probation or on parole): 1 in 21

      Increase in Texas overall population 1978-2004: 67%

      Increase in Texas prison population 1978-2004: 573%

      Percentage of TDCJ inmates convicted of drug offenses: 19.6%

      Drug offenders as a percentage of total probation revocations: 37%

      Percentage of state jail inmates incarcerated for less than a gram drug offenses convicted in Harris County: 50%

      Percentage of Texas population in Harris County: 17%

      Percentage of TDCJ pharmacy budget spent on HIV drugs: 48%

      Percentage of Texas prison inmates who were clients of the indigent mental health system on the outside: 30%

      Percentage of TDCJ inmates eligible for parole 66%

      Texas prison staffing positions vacant: 3,040

      Number of TDCJ staff fired for disciplinary infractions in FY 2007: 538

      TDCJ prison guard pay ranked by state: 47th

      Proposed TDCJ budget increase next biennium for the same prison population: 10.5%

      Percentage of Texas drivers with no auto insurance: 25.5%

      Proportion of drivers sentenced to pay "driver responsibility" fees who become scofflaws: 70%

      Percentage of Texas adults with outstanding arrest warrants: More than 10%

      Percentage of Texas DNA exonerations where wrongful conviction was caused by a faulty eyewitness: 82%

      Number of prisoners entering TDCJ for homicide in 2007: 849

      Number of new TDCJ inmates in 2007 sentenced to death: 14

      Texas Criminal Justice By the Numbers

      July 27, 2008

      TDCJ publishes FY 2007 prison stats

      The Texas Department of Criminal Justice just published its annual statistical report (pdf) Click HERE for Fiscal Year 2007 containing a great deal of data relevant to topics frequently discussed on this blog. Let's walk through a few highlights.

      In broad overview, at the end of FY 2007 TDCJ held 152,661 offenders in prisons and state jails and supervised 431,495 people on probation and 103,122 parolees.

      Tack on the 71,000+ currently incarcerated in county jails, and Texas' criminal justice system presently has more then 3/4 of a million people under its control - about one out of every 21 adults.

      Just under half of TDCJ inmates were convicted of violent offenses (49.7%).

      Another 17.1% of inmates committed property crimes (mostly burglary) and 19.6% are incarcerated for drug offenses, mostly possession only; 3.8% are incarcerated for DWI.

      TDCJ received 73,525 new prisoners in FY 2007 and released 72,032, representing significant growth but a much slower rate than in recent years. The youngest offender who entered TDCJ last year was 15 years old; the oldest was 88.

      The good news: the parole board clearly has plenty of leeway to manage the inmate population. Of those incarcerated in prison (as opposed to state jails or SAFP programs), a whopping 66% are currently eligible for parole.

      The six largest counties account for just more than 50% of TDCJ residents:

      Harris 19.5%
      Dallas 12.5%
      Tarrant 7.3%
      Bexar 6.4%
      Travis 3.4%
      El Paso 1.6%

      An interesting capital punishment note ...
      Texas only recently implemented an option of Life Without Parole (LWOP) as an alternative to the death penalty in capital cases.

      In 2007, TDCJ received 51 new capital convicts - 37 of them received sentences of LWOP, while just 14 went to death row.

      Posted by Gritsforbreakfast
      Labels: TDCJ

      Too Many Prisoners

      States should stop warehousing nonviolent offenders.

      July 11, 2008; Page A16

      TWO REPORTS by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics show that the rate of growth in the prison and jail populations of the United States has slowed slightly but that the country still has the dubious distinction of being the largest jailer in the world.

      As of June 30, 2007, the country held roughly 2.3 million people behind bars, either in local or state jails or in federal prisons.

      The cost of housing and caring for inmates has been astronomical, an estimated $55 billion annual expense for taxpayers, according to the Pew Center on the States. The bloated number of inmates has been particularly painful for states, some of which have been forced to cut spending for higher education to fund corrections programs. As a result, California is considering an overhaul of its prison policies, as are Kentucky, Mississippi, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

      This fiscal crisis should be a wake-up call for all states.

      Tough sentences for murder, rape and the like are unquestionably necessary and contributed to a drop in such crimes over the past two decades.

      But prisons should be focused on holding the most dangerous criminals rather than on warehousing nonviolent, first-time offenders.

      States should consider, as New Jersey is, redirecting nonviolent, first-time drug offenders to rehabilitation programs. Like California, states should also debate early release for the most well-behaved inmates who have no violence in their records -- an approach that provides an incentive for good behavior.

      And states should consider reducing harsh penalties for nonviolent drug offenses.

      Some states are considering eliminating parole and thus saving the cost of employing agents to provide the supervision. They should be careful; oversight of recently released prisoners can be critical in keeping them on track.

      On a national level, Congress should continue to press ahead with legislation to reduce the sentencing disparity between convictions for crack and powder cocaine; the guidelines call for a person convicted of possessing five grams of crack cocaine to serve the same mandatory minimum sentence as someone caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine.

      The disparity has, among other things, led to a disproportionate number of African Americans behind bars for possession of relatively small quantities of cocaine.

      Modest reductions in the federal sentencing guidelines for crack have brought some balance to the penalties, but more needs to be done.

      Too Many

      Editorial: Smart approach to inmate overcrowding

      May 22, 2008

      Texas always is playing catch-up on prison overcrowding, with its only response being building more cellblocks.

      That needs to change.

      The McLennan County commissioners say they are being forced to look into building a $40 million to $60 million, 1,000-bed facility.

      Counties throughout Texas have the same problem.

      It’s all related to prison sentencing, and Texas can’t build its way out of of it.

      From 1988 to 1995, Texas taxpayers funded more than 90,000 state prison beds with about $2.3 billion in bonds.

      That was followed by a massive prison-building program of the 1990s.

      Nonetheless, state prisons shortly were bulging at the seams again and Texas’ county jails were overcrowded with state-ready inmates.

      The situation also forced the state to initiate a revolving-door parole system of early release.

      Now, once more, Texas is confronted with inmate overcrowding.

      The McLennan County commissioners must deal with a projected shortfall of between 334 and 449 jail beds in the next two years based on the county’s expected population growth.

      The commissioners have voiced concerns that the state prison system, projected to have a shortfall of 11,000 beds by 2011, will again force more overcrowding back on county jails.

      County Judge Jim Lewissaid he prefers to find a private corporation to design, build, fund and operate a 1,000-bed facility on eight acres the county owns just west of the Highway 6 jail. The facility would provide a revenue stream by taking in inmates from other overcrowded jails.

      Texas lawmakers, judges, prosecutors and other elected officials long have felt that voters will reward them for talking up longer prison sentences and coming up with new crimes that call for prison time.

      The time has come for Texas to change the business-as-usual, “tough on crime” approach that packs Texas prisons and causes jails to overflowing, with the impetus to build more prisons and jails.

      With smarter sentencing, particularly as pertains to drug crimes, lawmakers can reduce the prison population without endangering the public.

      This should be done by upgrading Texas’ probation system and adopting modern rehabilitation programs for low-level drug offenders.

      Texas needs to put a greater emphasis on improved drug treatment programs and also adopt more alternative sentencing options.

      It’s time to get smart on crime.

      Smart approach to inmate overcrowding


      Prison Nation

      Posted by: greenfloyd

      Americans, perhaps like all people, have a remarkable capacity for tuning out unpleasantries that do not directly affect them. I'm thinking here of wars on foreign lands, but also the astonishing fact that the United States has become the world's most jail-loving country, with well over 1 in 100 adults living as slaves in a prison.

      Building and managing prisons, and locking people up, have become major facets of government power in our time, and it is long past time for those who love liberty to start to care.

      Before we get to the reasons why, look at the facts as reported by the New York Times. The U.S. leads the world in prisoner production.

      There are 2.3 million people behind bars. China, with four times as many people, has 1.6 million in prison. In terms of population, the US has 751 people in prison for every 100,000, while the closest competitor in this regard is Russia with 627. I'm struck by this figure: 531 in Cuba. The median global rate is 125.

      What's amazing is that most of this imprisoning trend is recent, dating really from the 1980s, and most of the change is due to drug laws. From 1925 to 1975, the rate of imprisonment was stable at 110, lower than the international average, which is what you might expect in a country that purports to value freedom. But then it suddenly shot up in the 1980s. There were 30,000 people in jail for drugs in 1980, while today there are half a million.

      Other factors include the criminalization of nearly everything these days, even passing bad checks or the pettiest of thefts. And judges are under all sorts of minimum sentencing requirements. Now, before we move to causes and answers, please consider what jail means. The people inside are slaves of the state. They are captured and held and regarded by their captors as nothing other than biological beings that take up space. The delivery of all services to them is contingent on the whims of their masters, who have no stake in the outcome at all.

      Now, you might say that this is necessary for some people, but be aware that it is the ultimate assault on human dignity. They are "paying the price" for their actions, but no one is in a position to benefit from the price paid. They aren't working off debts or compensating victims or struggling to overcome anything. They are just "doing time," costing taxpayers almost $25,000 a year per person. That's all these people are to society: a cost, and they are treated as such.

      And the communities in which they exist in these prisons consist of other un-valued people, and they become socialized into this mentality that is utterly contrary to every notion of civilization.

      Then there are the relentless threat and reality of violence, the unspeakable noise, the pervasiveness of every moral perversity. In short, prisons are Hell. It can be no wonder that they rehabilitate no one. As George Barnard Shaw said, "imprisonment is as irrevocable as death."

      What's more, everything we know about government applies to this ultimate government program. It is expensive (states alone spend $44 billion on prisons every year), inefficient, brutal, and irrational.

      The modern prison system is also a relatively new phenomenon in history, one that is used to enforce political priorities (the drug war) rather than punish real crimes. It is also manipulated by political passions rather than a genuine concern for justice. The results of the drug war are not to reduce consumption but rather the opposite. Illegal drugs are now a $100 billion dollar industry in the US, while the drug war itself costs taxpayers $19 billion, even as the costs of running the justice system are skyrocketing (up 418% percent in 25 years).

      People say that crime is down, so this must be working. Well, that depends on what you mean by crime. Drug use and distribution are associated with violence solely because they are illegal. They are crimes because the state says they are crimes, but they do not fit within the usual definition we find in the history of political philosophy, which centers on the violation of person or property.

      What's more, the "crime" of drug use and distribution hasn't really been kept down; it has only gone further underground. It's a major irony and commentary on the workability of prisons that drug markets are very active there.

      Now to causes. Some social scientists give the predictable explanation that all this is due to the lack of a "social safety net" in the U.S. In the first place, the U.S. has had such a net for a hundred years, and yet these people seem not to have noticed, even though no such net is big enough for some people. Moreover, it is more likely the very presence of such a net – which creates a moral hazard so that people do not learn to be responsible for their own well-being – that contributes to criminal behavior (all else being equal).

      There are those on all sides who attribute the increase to racial factors, given that the imprisoned population is disproportionately black and Hispanic, and noting the disparity in crime rates in such places as Minnesota with low levels of minority populations. But this factor too could be illusory, especially as regards drug use, since it is far more likely that a state system will catch and punish people with less influence and social standing than those whom the state regards as significant.

      A more telling point comes to us from political analysts, who observe the politicization of judicial appointments in the United States.

      Judges run on their "tough on crime" records, or are appointed for them, and so have every incentive to lock people up more than justice truly demands.

      One factor that hasn't been mentioned so far in the discussion is the lobbying power of the prison industry itself. The old rule is that if you subsidize something, you get more of it. And so it is with prisons and the prison-industrial complex. I've yet to find any viable figures on how large this industry is, but consider that it includes construction firms, managers of private prisons, wardens, food service providers, counselors, security services, and a hundred other kinds of companies to build and manage these miniature societies. What kind of political influence do they have? Speculation here, but it must be substantial.

      As for public concern, remember that every law on the books, every regulation, every line in the government codebook, is ultimately enforced by prison. The jail cell is the symbol and ultimate end of statism itself. It would be nice if we thought of the interests of the prisoners in society and those that will become so. But even if you are not likely to be among them, consider the loss of privacy, the loss of liberty, the loss of independence, the loss of all that used to be considered truly American, in the course of the building of prison nation.

      But won't crime go up if we abandon our prison system? Let Robert Ingersoll answer: "The world has been filled with prisons and dungeons, with chains and whips, with crosses and gibbets, with thumb- screws and racks, with hangmen and headsmen – and yet these frightful means and instrumentalities and crimes have accomplished little for the preservation of property or life. It is safe to say that governments have committed far more crimes than they have prevented.

      As long as society bows and cringes before the great thieves, there will be little ones enough to fill the jails."

      Llewellyn H. Rockwell, Jr.
      Prison Nation

      Record-High Ratio of Americans in Prison

      By N.C. Aizenman
      Washington Post Staff Writer
      February 28, 2008

      More than one in 100 adult Americans is in jail or prison, an all-time high that is costing state governments nearly $50 billion a year, in addition to more than $5 billion spent by the federal government, according to a report released today.

      With more than 2.3 million people behind bars at the start of 2008, the United States leads the world in both the number and the percentage of residents it incarcerates, leaving even far more populous China a distant second, noted the report by the nonpartisan Pew Center on the States.

      The ballooning prison population is largely the result of tougher state and federal sentencing imposed since the mid-1980s. Minorities have been hit particularly hard: One in nine black men age 20 to 34 is behind bars. For black women age 35 to 39, the figure is one in 100, compared with one in 355 white women in the same age group.

      While studies generally find that imprisoning more offenders reduces crime, the effect is influenced by changes in the unemployment rate, wages, the ratio of police officers to residents, and the share of young people in the population.

      In addition, when it comes to preventing repeat offenses by nonviolent criminals -- who make up about half of the incarcerated population -- alternative punishments such as community supervision and mandatory drug counseling that are far less expensive may prove just as or more effective than jail time.

      Florida, which nearly doubled its prison population over the past 15 years, has experienced a smaller drop in crime than New York, which, after a brief increase, reduced its number of inmates to below the 1993 level.

      "There is no question that putting violent and chronic offenders behind bars lowers the crime rate and provides punishment that is well deserved," said Adam Gelb, director of the Pew Center's Public Safety Performance Project and one of the study's authors. "On the other hand, there are large numbers of people behind bars who could be supervised in the community safely and effectively at a much lower cost -- while also paying taxes, paying restitution to their victims, and paying child support."

      About 91 percent of incarcerated adults are under state or local jurisdiction, and the report documents the tradeoffs state governments have faced as they have devoted ever larger shares of their budgets to house them. For instance, over the past two decades, state spending on corrections (adjusted for inflation) increased by 127 percent, while spending on higher education rose by 21 percent. For every dollar Virginia spends on higher education, it now spends about 60 cents on corrections. Maryland spends 74 cents on corrections per higher-education dollar.

      Despite reaching its latest milestone, the nation's incarcerated population has actually been growing far more slowly since 2000 than during the 1990s, when the spate of harsher sentencing laws began to take effect. These included a 1986 federal law mandating prison terms for crack cocaine offenses that were up to eight times as long as for those involving powder cocaine. In the early 1990s, states across the nation adopted "three-strikes-you're-out" laws and curtailed the discretion parole boards have in deciding when to release an inmate. As a result, between 1990 and 2000, the prison population swelled by about 80 percent, increasing by as much as 86,000 per year.

      By contrast, from 2007 to 2008, the prison population increased by 25,000 -- a 2 percent rise. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has issued decisions giving judges more leeway under mandatory sentencing laws, and a number of states, including Texas, are seeking to reduce their incarcerated population by adopting alternative punishments.

      "Some of these [measures] would have been unthinkable five years ago," noted Gelb. "But the bottom line is that states have to balance their budgets."

      Record-High Ratio of Americans in Prison

      Millions in the Slammer: We Must Reverse America's Zeal to Incarcerate

      By Nomi Prins, The Women's International Perspective Posted on December 30, 2007

      The movie Atonement is a heart-breaking love-story, a historical WWII saga. Without giving away the ending, which must be seen to be adequately felt, it tells the tale of two lovers' lives irrevocably changed by false testimony against one of them -- for a crime he did not commit. Thus, it's also a condemnation of unreliable witnesses, the willingness of people to believe the worst, particularly of those in a lower economic-class, and the havoc that a false accusation and conviction can wreak upon human life. It's a film and message that every judge, jury member, and prosecutor should see and consider before convicting or sentencing anyone accused of a crime.

      On December 10th, the United States Supreme Court voted 7-2 to recognize a gross injustice with respect to sentencing guidelines which disproportionately penalize those convicted of crack versus cocaine related crimes. The disparity gives equal punishment to a person caught with 5 grams of crack (a poor person's cocaine) and one caught with 500 grams of coke (a drug dealer's amount). In their validation of a federal district judge's below-guideline sentence for a crack case, the Supreme Court reconfirmed the 2005 Booker ruling that federal judges could have more discretion in levying below- guideline sentences. They did not rule on the validity of the guidelines themselves.

      This decision should be viewed as the tip of an iceberg. American prisons teem with non-violent prisoners. Our juries are caught between wanting to rush home for the evening and wanting to appear law-abiding. Members are too quick to bow to the loudest voice amongst them, and not necessarily in The Twelve Angry Men direction.

      Meanwhile, false convictions, due to witness error, prosecutorial misconduct, inferior defense lawyers or coerced "snitching," continue to destroy multiple generations of lives. They throw the idea of "equal protection under the law" under the same bus as our Declaration of Independence mantra of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

      We've simply got to reverse this zeal to incarcerate. The United States has more inmates and a higher incarceration rate than any other nation: more than Russia, South Africa, Mexico, Iran, India, Australia, Brazil and Canada combined. Nearly 1 in every 136 US residents is in jail or prison. That's 2.2 million people, an amount that quadrupled from 1980 to 2005. (There were only 340,000 people incarcerated in 1972.) Adding in figures for those on probation or parole, the number reaches 7.1 million.

      Over the next five years, the American prison population is projected to increase three times more quickly than our resident population. The Federal Prison system is growing at 4% per year with 55% of federal prisoners serving time for drug offenses, and only 11% for violent crimes. Women are more likely than men (29% to 19%) to serve drug sentences, dismantling thousands of families. One-third of prisoners are first time, non-violent offenders. Three-quarters are non-violent offenders with no history of violence. More than 200,000 are factually innocent. Whether our citizens are wrongly incarcerated or exaggeratedly so, our prison figures are shameful.

      December 19th marked the five-year anniversary of the 2002 exoneration of the five "perpetrators" who were originally caught, indicted, and convicted in the infamous Central Park Jogger case. The five black and Hispanic youths, ages 14 to 16 at the time of their imprisonment, were exonerated only after they had spent between 5 and 13 1/2 years in prison for crimes they did not commit. Their freedom came late, even as it was conclusively confirmed by DNA testing results. At the time of their arrests, they confessed to crimes after prolonged interrogation by police.

      The Innocence Project counts 210 people, mostly minorities, who have been exonerated post-conviction by conclusive DNA results (350 people have been exonerated including non-DNA related exonerations) . Fifteen of them spent time on death row for crimes they did not commit. The average age at the time of their convictions was 26 years old. The average time served was 12 years. The total number of violent crimes that were committed because the real perpetrators were free while the innocent were imprisoned was 74.

      Those total numbers may seem small, as those who favor a harsher penal system would argue, but they only consist of the situations that have been put through years of legal battles to conclude innocence. They don't include cases where there is no money left for the wrongfully convicted to fight for their freedom. They don't include the cases of people who are so beaten down mentally or physically by their imprisonment, they can't fight. They don't include the ones who don't even know what steps to take.

      Freedom is a basic human right destroyed by a felony conviction. And in some states, so is the right to vote. Other casualties include the ability to adopt children, find housing or have certain employment.

      The stigma is permanent. Thus any mistake in a court-room, whether due to a self-serving witness or an ambitious prosecutor, costs someone a part of their life, severing them from the fabric of a justice system designed to protect them. As Martin Luther King said from the Birmingham Jail in 1963, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

      Thus, there's more work to do. Providing judges more latitude to reverse jury convictions in which there's no physical evidence, or there exists the potential of fraudulent or self-incriminating testimony coerced under hostile conditions or threats, would be another step in the direction of justice. Reducing guidelines substantially would also help, as would be alternatives to incarceration for non-violent offenders. Without addressing these issues, our prisons will continue to burst beyond the seams of their present 134% overcrowding rate, our prisons systems will continue to get more funding than our schools, and we will be a sadder nation for it.

      Nomi Prins is a senior fellow at the public policy center Demos and author of Other People's Money and Jacked: How "Conservatives" are Picking your Pocket (Whether you voted for them or not).

      © 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
      View this story online at: Millions in the Slammer:

      Confronting problem of prisons

      Oct 05, 2007

      We advertise ourselves as the Land of the Free. Yet America has the highest reported incarceration rate in the world.

      The United States houses 750 inmates per 100,000 people, compared with the world average rate of 166. Russia, the country with the second highest incarceration rate, has a rate of 624. You don't want to beat the birthplace of the gulag in a jailing contest.

      It's as if a Statue of Lost Liberty has replaced the original, with the inscription: "Give me your blacks, your poor, your drug-addicted and mentally ill, yearning to suffocate in a cage."

      Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., conducted a hearing yesterday on the rising U.S. prison population.

      During an interview later, he traced his passion for the issue to his visit to Japan 25 years ago to study its prison system. That nation, with half our population, then had 40,000 prisoners. The U.S. had 780,000 at the time.

      Now, our nation holds some 2.1 million people behind bars -- including about 54,000 in jails and prisons in Virginia.

      Webb risks being called soft on crime, but he says this is a matter of fairness. "The system has tilted way too far in imprisoning people."

      The next step?

      "Emotional arguments are best made through facts. We get the facts out there and see if we can get people to comprehend the depth of the problem. And then we start addressing it."

      George Allen, Webb's three-strikes- no-parole predecessor, must be spinning in his political grave. Who expected this from our freshman senator?

      Larry J. Sabato, for one.

      Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, said Webb brought up the prison issue unprompted in Sabato's classes in April.

      "He clearly cares about the prison issue, economic unfairness, and other topics not usually associated with U.S. senators from Virginia. But Virginia is changing rapidly, as his election proved," Sabato said.

      The Rev. Canon Alonzo C. Pruitt, rector of St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Richmond, is delighted at Webb's interest.

      Pruitt, whose background is social work, is the chaplain at Richmond City Jail. He says half the inmates there have mental-health issues or are addicted to drugs or alcohol. They need treatment, not confinement.

      "We need to lock up the people we're afraid of," he said, "not the people we're angry with."

      Marc Mauer, executive director of The Sentencing Project in Washington, said governors from both parties are reconsidering prison policy as they confront hard choices.

      "Where do we want to be a generation from now?" he said. "The kids growing up today, do we want to reserve a prison cell for them or reserve a classroom for them?"

      There's also a growing recognition that the war on drugs has been an expensive failure that disproportionately punishes low-income and black defendants.

      "These are real problems we need to address," Mauer said. "The question is what's the most cost-effective and compassionate way to go about it."

      This issue is about fiscal prudence, public safety and American fundamentals: justice, fairness and freedom. And about whether we'll be guided by reason or revenge.

      This comes down to whether we desire to treat our sick and rehabilitate our criminals, or make them disappear at any cost.

      Contact Michael Paul Williams

      at (804) 649-6815 or
      mwilliams@timesdisp atch.com.


      Must we use prisons to harden criminals?
      by March Morial

      What happens behind bars in the jails and prisons of this nation doesn't stay there. It trickles out into the community. Every year, 13.5 million people -- a disproportionate number of them African American -- pass through our nation's prisons and jails, with a vast majority - 95 percent - eventually re-entering society.

      Some leave their periods of incarceration as hardened criminals anxious to return to a life of crime. Others do not.

      In the 1990s, harsher punishments for drug crimes fueled the current prison population boom. And in light of the FBI's recent announcement that violent crime was up 2.5 percent in 2005, the problem isn't likely to go away anytime soon.

      In our nation's efforts to "get tough on crime," we've lost some of our compassion for our fellow man. We've let cynicism undermine our hope that rehabilitation is possible for all people.

      All human beings deserve a modicum of respect and dignity. But in our nation's prisons, you really have to wonder if that standard is being upheld. Inhumane conditions - driven by overcrowding, financial woes and understaffing -- have pushed some prisons to the boiling point. They're not places where prisoners have a decent chance at rehabilitation. They are places where criminals become more efficient and violent.

      Mind you, corrections is a tough profession. Corrections officers often work long shifts in tense, overcrowded facilities without enough backup, support or training. Many wardens run aging and understaffed facilities in which experienced officers are likely to leave for better-paying, less-stressful jobs.

      These pressures cause stress, injury, and illness among the prison workforce, and contribute to a dangerous culture inside. The tension is worsened further by racial and cultural differences.

      In prisons where this culture has evolved, rules aren't enforced, prisoner-on- prisoner violence is tolerated, and antagonistic relationships can erupt into overt hostility and physical violence.

      In the 1960s in my home state of Louisiana, the maximum security state penitentiary in Angola had a reputation for being "America's bloodiest prison."

      I don't know what prison carries that distinction today, but it is no longer Angola. That prison's fundamental institutional culture has been profoundly transformed.

      Everyone who works at Angola treats prisoners with dignity and respect, and prisoners are expected to reciprocate that treatment. Prisoners have been given hope through education and morally based programming, and responsibility through meaningful employment.

      The fair and reliable enforcement of the rules by staff and prisoners means less violence.

      The Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons recently released a report, called "Confronting Confinement, " that highlights a wide array of dangerous conditions surrounding incarceration - the violence, poor health care, inappropriate segregation, lack of political support for labor and anagement, weak oversight of correctional facilities and lack of reliable data.

      Of the 30 practical reforms recommended, institutional culture change is perhaps most important. Prisons need it if tools and training help change the culture of their institutions. The program teaches them to resolve conflict through communication - particularly across cultural and racial differences - rather than violence.

      In an era when everyone and their uncle seem to want to "get tough on crime," I realize that institutional "culture change" sounds soft. But prisons that add punishment on top of the sentence will be violent places. Prisons that treat inmates with basic human dignity and respect are more likely to be places where violence and abuse are the rare exception and not the rule.

      Distributed by www.minutemanmedia.org

      As prisons fill, state hunts for scarce beds

      Growing convict population raises questions about future housing

      By Mike Ward
      Saturday, July 01, 2006

      While the state is paying $40 a day to house more than 1,000 state convicts in county jails, it is paying some private lockups as little as $20 a day to hold several thousand others.

      It is a difference that state officials are examining closely as they scramble to find new beds to supplement overflowing state prisons.

      Why the difference in cost?

      "Well, the answer is not simple," said state Rep. Jerry Madden, a Richardson Republican who leads the House Corrections Committee, which monitors the prison system. "These inmates are all basically the same type, just the price is much higher."

      County jail beds are more expensive than some private lockups' because their bunks are maximum-security and their costs are higher, prison officials said. However, most of the inmates who are housed outside state prisons are minimum-security, they said.

      So why not lease more of the cheaper bunks and save money?

      A state law enacted years ago limits the number of state convicts that can be held in any one private prison to 1,000, Madden said. He has promised to try to change that law when the Legislature convenes in 2007 if that is what it takes to save money.

      Even then, enough bunks may not be available in either kind of jail to go around. In recent months, state officials said, federal officials have been leasing hundreds of empty jail beds at a higher price than the state pays. That is heightening fears that sometime next year, when the state may need hundreds more bunks for its prisoner overflow, there may not be enough.

      "With fewer beds out there, that means we're going to be tighter for space," Madden said. "No question about it."

      In all, officials said they are budgeted to spend up to $43.8 million during the fiscal year that ends in August to lease prison beds.

      To house a convict in a state-run prison costs Texas taxpayers about $40 a day. Most counties charge the same rate, officials said. But the rate of private lockups is much less, ranging from about $20 to $30 a day, Madden said.

      "By contract, they don't have the medical costs because if an inmate gets sick, they transfer him back to the state," he said. "Their personnel costs are less. Their overhead is less. But in some cases, their programs are better than the ones offered in the county jails."

      That, prison officials said, is by design: Private prisons include space for programs vocational instruction and treatment programs, among others as part of their contract with governments that house inmates there. County jails, however, are built with little or no space for programs because they are generally limited to holding prisoners.

      "The counties have no guaranteed minimum number of inmates who will be housed there, like the contract guarantees the private companies get, so there's more of a financial chance involved in the county operations," Madden said. "One day they might be full of state inmates; the next day they might not."

      Prison officials said Friday that they are hoping to lease 300 to 400 more beds in coming months; 1,418 prisoners are already housed in county jails.

      More than 4,000 state inmates are housed in privately run prisons under long-term contracts with the state. One houses 1,000 inmates, the rest 500 and all seven are full.

      State prisons Friday were about 97 percent full, holding 152,526 convicts.

      "The projections are that we'll need about 3,100 (overflow) contract beds" by the end of August 2007, said Michelle Lyons, a Huntsville- based spokeswoman for the prison system. "That's more than twice what we contract for now."

      In May, reports show, the prison population grew by 334 convicts an upward trend that has been demonstrated in three of the first five months of the year.

      Officials at the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the agency that oversees county jails and private lockups, said about 2,900 felons were in county jails in June awaiting transfer to a state prison. Statewide, county jails had about 3,900 empty beds.

      Of the 81,000 prisoners in county and private jails across Texas, 13,710 were so-called "contract" inmates June 1, including state and federal prisoners, as well as inmates from eight other states.

      Considering Texas' growing prison population, expected to fill state prisons by sometime early next year, Madden said he is pushing prison officials to review their contracting policies to take advantage of cheaper beds and to ensure that Texas has enough available bunks to hold all its inmates during the coming year.

      As part of their interim studies, both the House and Senate committees that oversee prisons are examining ways to slow the flow of convicts into prisons, including diverting more first-time offenders to probation, releasing more nonviolent offenders onto more intensively supervised paroles and even bolstering educational and vocational programs in prisons to cut recidivism.

      Madden, a conservative GOP House leader, said he is also supporting expansion of drug- and alcohol-treatment programs championed years ago by Gov. Ann Richards, a Democrat, and then drastically scaled back by Republicans who replaced her. They blamed the cutbacks on budget belt-tightening.

      "Some of those programs appear to be working," Madden said. "We should look at expanding them."

      mward@statesman.com; 512-445-1712


      According to a report by the Legislative Budget Board (LBB) the state's prison population is expected to exceed its prison bed capacity by nearly 10,000 beds by 2010. That number is down from last year's projection of 14,000.

      House Corrections committee chairman Rep. Jerry Madden (R- Richardson) spoke at the Texas Public Policy Foundation this week on the challenge the state will face in housing the future prison population.

      "The good news is that probation departments are decreasing the revocation rates and increasing early discharges - that means we are slowing the spillover of probationers being sent to prison," Madden said. The Legislature allocated funding last year for a new diversion program intended to reduce probation officers' caseloads to help probationers stay on the straight and narrow.

      It would cost the state an estimated $250 million to build a 2,250 bed minimum-maximum prison. That's why lawmakers and public policy experts are looking at ways to minimize the need to build more prisons.

      Madden said that in the next legislative session he plans to reintroduce probation reform legislation vetoed last year by Gov. Rick Perry. "It will be brought back in a form that will be acceptable to the Governor, but I will not eliminate the components of the bill that are guaranteed to make our probation system stronger," he said.

      Madden also plans to ask the governor to reinstate the Criminal Justice Policy Council or some form thereof. The council was abolished in 2003 but had a lot of respect from lawmakers of both parties. The council provided data to the legislature on prison population and other information that affects the Texas criminal justice system.

      < a href="http://dallasblog. com/dallas- blogs/2006/ 6/16/texas- prisons-will- bust-at-seams-by- 2010.html">TX Prison Busting At Seams

      National prison report highlights problems long known in Texas

      Panel offers suggestions on problems that plague industry.

      By Mike Ward
      Thursday, June 08, 2006

      Pervasive violence, a lack of programs for inmates and increasingly crowded conditions in state prisons across the country pose a growing threat to public safety, a report that's to be made public today concludes.

      Although the report by the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons only anecdotally cites Texas in its findings, many of the problems it highlights are ones commonly cited by both inmates and correctional officers as dogging Texas' brim-full system, the nation's second largest.

      "When people live and work in facilities that are unsafe, unhealthy, unproductive or inhumane, they carry the effects home with them," the report states. "We must remember that our prisons and jails are part of the justice system, not apart from it."

      In all, the report states, more than 2.2 million Americans are behind bars each day. More than 13.5 million spend time in a jail or prison during a year. And more than 750,000 people work in prisons.

      Texas' 110 prisons house nearly 152,000 convicts.

      State prison officials said late Wednesday that they could not comment because they had not seen the report.

      But Brian Olsen, executive director of the 4,200-member labor union that represents Texas correctional officers, said the findings ring true.

      "The Legislature needs to recognize that this is a huge public safety issue and not just a problem inside the prisons but a problem for the community at large," he said. "It needs to be addressed, and it needs to be addressed now."

      Among the "pressing problems" that the 20-member commission found during a year of hearings and investigation:

      Violence remains a serious problem in prisons and jails, with reports of gang violence, rape, beatings by officers, "a pattern of illegal and humiliating strip-searches" in one large jail, and even "goon squads" of guards who reportedly abused and intimidated prisoners in the Florida prison system.

      On Monday, a gang-fueled fight left one convict dead and three others injured at the Telford Unit in New Boston, in East Texas.

      To reduce the climate of violence, the commission recommends that steps be taken to reduce overcrowding, additional vocational and rehabilitation programs be funded, and the use of force and nonlethal weaponry to contain convicts be reduced dramatically.

      "High rates of disease and illness among prisoners, coupled with inadequate funding for correctional health care, endanger prisoners, staff and the public," the report says.

      Recommendation: Screen, test and treat infectious diseases; extend Medicaid and Medicare to cover prisoners; and properly treat prisoners with mental illnesses.

      The increased use of high-security segregation "is counterproductive, often causing violence inside facilities and contributing to recidivism after release," according to the report. Instead, the commission recommends that the widespread use of solitary confinement be ended.

      "Better safety inside prisons and jails depends on changing the institutional culture," which cannot be accomplished without increasing pay scales, improving training and lowering high turnover rates.

      In Texas, where pay for correctional officers is among the lowest, the turnover rate is about 23 percent. And the state has one of the highest arrest rates of correctional officers and staff, according to a recent analysis by the Austin American-Statesman.

      James Marquardt, a University of Texas at Dallas professor, is quoted in the report as telling the commission how Texas increased public scrutiny of its prisons years ago: "The Texas prison system was known as the 'black hole of Calcutta,' a violent, dangerous world from which the public was excluded. But that changed, and it changed as a result of leadership within the wider community. Prominent bankers, politicians, schoolteachers, university types came in and shone the light on what was going on within that environment."

      The national prison commission is made up of attorneys, a former prisoner, a Tennessee sheriff, the head of the Iowa corrections system, a former New Orleans mayor, former FBI Director William Sessions, a California lawmaker and academics, among others.

      It is co-chaired by former U.S. Court of Appeals Judge John Gibbons and former U.S. Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach, who served under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson.

      The report is to bemade public today in Washington during a hearing of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Corrections and Rehabilitation.

      mward@statesman.com; 445-1712

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      Prison overcrowding back on agenda

      Web Posted: 03/23/2006

      Isadora Vail
      Express-News Austin Bureau

      AUSTIN — Ten years after Texas legislators went on a prison-building binge to ease overcrowding, the issue is back — a big sign that something bigger is wrong with the corrections system and needs to be fixed, criminal justice groups said Wednesday.

      The House Committee on Corrections heard testimony from more than 10 organizations, including the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, to gather ideas and discuss ways to alleviate overcrowding in the state's prison system.

      Texas had to reduce the overflow of prisoners in the 1990s because of a federal court order, nearly tripling the number of inmate beds. With more than 150,000 beds, it is considered the largest prison system in the country.

      Since prison overcrowding is nothing new and Gov. Rick Perry vetoed a probation reduction bill last year, the committee is seeking alternatives to incarceration by reducing a felon's chances of re-offending.

      But that doesn't mean a similar probation bill won't cross the governor's desk again next year, said Shannon Edmonds, staff attorney for Texas District and County Attorneys Association.

      Edmonds said the committee hopes to form a product that everyone will support.

      House Bill 2193 would have reduced the maximum probation period from 10 to five years for some felons. Lawmakers overwhelmingly passed the bill, but Perry rejected it because some felons were violent offenders.

      According to the TDCJ, Texas had the largest probation population in the country in 2004.

      "Today Texans are bearing a huge, unnecessary cost due to a failed probation system," testified Ana Yañez-Correa, executive director of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition. "Many Texans would be shocked to know that bad probation policies in our state are only serving to waste tax dollars while actually diminishing public safety."

      Other ways to alleviate prison overcrowding were discussed by Texas Youth Commission, Probation Advisory Council and the Texas Probation Association.

      Jim Scott, the legislative co-chairman for the Texas Probation Association, said he is gathering probation officers' opinions about the criminal justice system and where they believe the corrections system should be.

      Richard Watkins, with the NAACP, spoke of his years spent as a Texas prison guard. He experienced many changes with inmates through faith-based and substance abuse programs, and that these programs should still be available to inmates.

      Committee member John McReynolds said the committee needs help in finding a way back to where the criminal justice system was a few years ago, when college courses were offered in prisons.

      "We need help to develop a map of where we were a few years ago,"
      McReynolds said.


      I pledge allegiance to One Prison Nation Under God?

      "The United States is way ahead of the rest of the industrial world in imprisoning its own population. That's for population control. None of that has anything to do with crime."

      "The U.S. has both the largest prison population and the highest rate of incarceration in the world, including China and Russia.

      The U.S. incarcerates people at a rate more than 15 times that of Japan, and its prison population is more than eight times that of Italy, France, the UK, Spain, and Australia combined."

      * 1.4 million African American men -- 13 percent of the adult African American male population -- have lost the right to-vote, a rate of disenfranchisement that is seven times the national average. By comparison, in the 1996 general election 4.6 million African American men voted.

      * In five states lowa, Mississippi, New Mexico, Virginia, and Wyoming one in four black men (24% to 28%) have permanently lost the right to vote.

      Census to study how prisoners are counted

      Change could have important political changes in Texas
      By Asher Price
      November 30, 2005

      A provision in an appropriations measure signed last week by President Bush that directs the Census Bureau to study how prisoners are counted could have far-reaching implications for the distribution of political clout in Texas. The provision orders the bureau to examine whether it could count prisoners as living at their address at the time of incarceration instead of at their prison addresses.

      Currently, under the bureau's "usual residence" rule, which counts people where they sleep and live at the time the census is taken, prisoners are counted as living in the community where they are incarcerated rather than in the neighborhood they call home.

      Where prisoners are counted — in penitentiaries usually in remote areas far from home — effectively shifts political power, taking federal and state dollars, and social services, from urban areas to rural ones, and ultimately skews a state's public policy agenda, according to academics and researchers who have advocated for the change.

      But one Census Bureau official said he is skeptical about changing the method, and some rural lawmakers said the population numbers prisons bring in is critical for bringing government dollars to their regions.

      According to "Importing Constituents: Prisoners and Political Clout in Texas," a report based on the 2000 census and released last year by the Prison Policy Initiative, a Massachu- setts-based research and advocacy group dedicated to reforming prison policies, Texas has two state House districts that have almost 12 percent of their residents behind bars. Ten Texas counties have more than 20 percent of their citizens in prison. Those prisoners hail primarily from the state's urban areas and typically return to those cities after their release.

      "If they're from Houston, it doesn't make sense to count them as members of, let's say, Hartley County," said Bill Cooper, a demographer with FairData, a database for education, environment, housing and poverty-related issues. Hartley is a Panhandle county with at least one-fifth of its 5,537 residents in prison.

      Compounding the problem is that prisoners don't have voting rights. A county such as Hartley gets a population boost largely from imported prisoners, but Hartley commissioners (or the state representative or U.S. congressman who represent Hartley) are not accountable to them.

      Several years ago, state Rep. Harold Dutton, D-Houston, sponsored legislation that would have counted prisoners according to their pre-incarceration address. The bill, which Dutton says would have added another representative to Harris County, failed in the House after stiff opposition from rural legislators.

      Prisoners are critical for pulling down federal dollars and maintaining political power in rural districts, said state Rep. Sid Miller, R-Stephenville.

      "Rural voting strength is declining every time we do a census," he said. About 6.5 percent of his district's population is incarcerated. "I don't want to give up any of mine."

      But changing the way prisoners are counted will lead "to a better count and a more just distribution of public funds," said Kenneth Prewitt, a professor of public affairs at Columbia University who was the Census Bureau director from 1998 to 2001.

      Advocates of changing the counting method say there is plenty of time to adjust the rules by 2010, when the country takes its next census.

      "Incarcerated people are easy to find," said Patricia Allard, co-author of a report called Accuracy Counts, published by the Brennan Center for Justice in New York. "It's just a matter of finding out where they lived before they were incarcerated. People have enduring ties to particular communities — their physical presence in a community isn't the only factor to keep in mind."

      But Ed Byerly, the head of the population and housing branch at the Census Bureau, said he has studied the issue over the past year and "nothing yet points to changing how people incarcerated are counted," he said. "If you've been ordered by a judge to be in prison, that's where you're living at the time of the census."

      Home is "not where your mom is," he said. By following something other than the "usual residence" rule, which has guided census takers since 1790, "You open up a Pandora's box, a free-for-all census, where there's no principle for where people are counted."

      asherprice@statesman.com; 445-3643


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