In past years, Texas has gained a formidable “lock ‘em up” reputation. Although this endures today and the state still has the largest prison population in the country. Texas’ prison population continues to fall.
Recently the San Antonio Current noted the state’s massive prison population is shrinking at a faster rate than the rest of the country.
Part of that is due to criminal justice reforms aimed at offsetting the need for new jails.
The Current noted in 2010, the prison population in the Lone Star State reached an all-time high when there were 173,649 inmates behind bars.
However, the Sentencing Project noted in a report that the number had fallen by five percent in five years. That equated to almost 8,700 fewer people in prison than in 2010.
Although the report pointed to the marked decline in Texas’ prison population, the five percent fall was small compared to many states. New Jersey saw a decline of almost 35 percent and it fell by 29 percent in New York.
Texas Criminal justice experts say the fall in the prison population is linked to reforms Texas lawmakers started to implement in 2007, in an attempt to reduce the state’s ballooning criminal justice budget. We have noted some of these changes like the decriminalization of truancy.
Michele Deitch, a senior lecturer at the University of Texas’ LBJ School of Public Affairs said:
“For the last decade, Texas has been making a concerted effort to turn the tide.”
In past years, Texas sought to meet the spike in the prison population by providing more beds. Now it has started putting more money into diversion programs and treatment services that tackled the underlying reasons why Texans ended up in prison in the first place.
Deitch said Texas has not seen reductions in its prison population to rival states like New Jersey because it failed to pass a comprehensive prison reform bill.
In New Jersey, sentences for drug crimes were slashed while California revisited the controversial ‘three strikes and you’re out’ legislation.
Reform in Texas has been a more gradual process and Deitch is concerned the pace of reform is slowing with no major criminal justice reforms in this year’s legislative session.
At the same time at the national level, Attorney General Jeff Sessions is pursuing an approach to incarceration that echoes the 1980s tough on crime rhetoric.
In contrast to in the 1980s, crime levels in the U.S. remain low, although violent offenses have been rising in many cities over the last two years. Cities like Austin have seen marked increases in violent crime over the last year.
Deitch is critical of the approach, saying the new administration is not attuned to the facts and data related to crime trends.
While Texas has made strides to cut its jail population in recent years, it still has a well-earned reputation for being tough on crime. If you have been charged with an offense in Laredo, Austin, Round Rock or elsewhere in Texas, it’s vital to hire an experienced criminal defense lawyer. Call us at (512) 474-4445.