Texas Eclipses California As State With Largest Prison Population

Categories: Crime

Thumbnail image for clockwork prisoners.jpg
Last month, Texas' prison population was right at 154,000, the lowest its been in five years. Lower crime rates, an aging population, and alternative treatments have all contributed to the decline.

But as the Star-Telegram noted yesterday, the drop hasn't been enough to spare Texas the dubious distinction of locking up the most prisoners in the country. It now has 18,000 more people locked up than California, the perennial leader in the field.

Actually, says David Fahi, who directs the ACLU's National Prison Project, Texas has the second largest prison system in the country behind the federal government, which has some 218,000 people behind bars. As far as states go, however, Texas is the clear leader.

"For the last several years, Texas and California have been quite close in having the largest state prison population," Fathi said.

What has tipped the balance toward Texas is a 2009 court order requiring California to reduce its population from 200 percent of capacity to 137.5 percent of capacity. The court found, and the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed, that to do otherwise would violate prisoners' constitutional rights. California has largely complied, shedding nearly 1,000 prisoners per week, largely by housing low-level offenders in local jails.

Texas has made some progress, but not as much as California and not as much as states like New York, New Jersey, and Michigan. Partly its about money. Keeping a prisoner costs a state a lot of money that could go toward schools, highways and other more productive uses. More than that, Fathi sees the start of a shift away from "reflexive, unthinking reliance on mass incarceration."

"What underlies all of these success stories is a political decision to reserve incarceration for those who really need it rather than those we happen to be mad at."

None of this has had any measurable impact on public safety, which leads Fathi to hope that states will continue to focus on ways to trim their prison systems. There are relatively painless ways to do this, like giving more opportunities to shave time off their sentences through good behavior, education or labor or by taking a hard look at inmates older than 50 who are, by definition, lower risk and more expensive to support.

That will help, but it doesn't get to the heart of the reason that Texas, or the United States as a whole, incarcerates such a large percentage of its population. To do that requires a fundamental rethink of sentencing law, Fathi said.

"You can nibble around the edges a little bit, but until we take this on head-on and really look at why we have such brutally long sentences in this country, it's going to be hard to make significant progress."

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14 comments
roo_ster
roo_ster

Livefyre:  When you absolutely, positively wish for your reply to a previous comment to be placed as a reply to some _other_ random comment.

scottindallas
scottindallas topcommenter

we have the highest incarceration rate in the world on a per capita basis, and on a real number basis.  It's astonishing. 

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Just a second here.  Doesn't it stand to reason that the second most populous state in America would also be right up there near the top?

kergo1spaceship
kergo1spaceship

Were number one for incarcerations, and for being a FAT state.  Horray!  (then me dancing and shakin' my rump)  'we winnin', we winnin!". What's next?  State with highest health premiums and the least amount of fresh foods. Come on, Texas, let's win the "sh+thole championship!". 

cheeseburger
cheeseburger

So we're number 1 now since California is letting all their criminals out of prison.  OK.  That's completely meaningless.

CVGilkeson
CVGilkeson

Excellent - our plan is working!

PlanoDave
PlanoDave

Waiting for the Fat Cat chick to chime in with an observation about how this is because TX is a Red state...

Lakewooder
Lakewooder

War on drugs, the gift that keeps on givin'.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

I wonder if anyone sees the correlation between reduced crime rates and increased jail population?

AmazingBenefits
AmazingBenefits

Thank de Lawd for all those amazing benefits of Divershitty that naive white-guilt libtard "journalists" love to celebrate!

rubbercow
rubbercow

In your face, California! We're #1!

cheeseburger
cheeseburger

 @PlanoDave I just knew she had to be fat.  Stupid and fat.  There's a winning combination.

roo_ster
roo_ster

 @ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul Nope, they don't.  The reduction in crime rates whilst increasing the number of criminals is a hatefact and good people don;t let themselves think on it.

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