Two Texas researchers are challenging the widely-made assertion that Texas is a model for criminal justice reform. Politicians from President Obama to former Texas Gov. Rick Perry to New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker congratulate Texas for saving money, increasing public safety and reducing prison populations. Caitlin Dunklee and Rebecca Larsen of the Institute of Urban Policy Research and Analysis at the University of Texas at Austin ask whether the reforms have reduced the number of people Texas incarcerates or substantially reduced racial disparity. “It's clear the answer to both questions is no,” say the researchers, writing in the San Antonio Express-News.
Since the prison reform model began in 2007, Texas has failed to reduce the number of individuals it incarcerates, say Dunklee and Larsen. In 2013, the state actually increased the number of people behind prison bars. Texas has not attempted to decrease stark racial disparity. African Americans are imprisoned at higher rates and for longer terms than whites who commit the same crimes. African Americans comprise 35 percent of the state’s prison population despite being only 12.4 percent of the state's population. The researchers contend that Texas still incarcerates too many people for technical violations of probation and parole, which can be as simple as missing curfew. The Grits For Breakfast blog contests some of the researchers assertions, saying the prison population actually has declined slightly since 2007 and the “reforms were important but should be viewed as a first step, not a final result.”