The 1.3 percent decline in Texas’ prison population last year was slightly higher than the national drop of one percent, says the Texas Tribune. At the end of last year, there were 166,043 prisoners in state custody, the lowest number since 2002. It was the state’s fourth largest annual decline in more than 35 years. The largest drop came in 2012, when the population fell by nearly 6,000 prisoners from 2011. The small downward shift continues a trend that began in 2010, when the number held in Texas prisons peaked at 173,649. Doug Smith, a policy analyst at the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, said the 1.3 percent change is significant. “There's nothing normal about decreases in prison populations in Texas,” Smith said.
Michele Deitch, criminal justice expert at the University of Texas at Austin, pointed to a “very concerted effort” by the Texas legislature to get the number down. It included a series of diversionary treatment programs, drug courts and halfway houses launched in 2007, after lawmakers balked at spending $500 million to build and staff another 17,000 prison beds to accommodate rising populations. Still, Texas remains the state with the largest prison population, and the fourth-highest rate of incarceration in the U.S., behind Louisiana, Oklahoma and Alabama. “Is it going down fast enough or far enough? Not at all,” Deitch said. “But we're no longer on that same growth curve. You've got to see the bigger picture here.”