TX Prison Population Drops; State Rate Now 4th In U.S.; Will it Last?


Instead of 156,500 prisoners behind bars in Texas’ 111 state prisons a year ago, the lockups now hold just over 154,000, says the Austin American-Statesman. 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. “The challenge is to sustain the outcomes to see how far you can go in downsizing prisons,” says Tony Fabelo, an Austin-based criminal justice consultant and former Texas official. “I have my doubts, but it’s an interesting time for criminal justice.”

Instead of sending 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. “Policies in various states are finally catching up with what we know works,” said Marc Levin of 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.”

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