Texas Has Fewer Inmates; What The Hell Are We Doing Wrong?

The U.S. Department of Justice recently released a report about state prison populations, and Texas was one of six states with large decreases in the number of people incarcerated. 

These numbers continue, the report says, "the trend of slower growth observed in the prison population since 2006."

"Some of the decrease certainly can be attributed to the expansion of drug and alcohol treatment programs and various community-based programs that serve as an alternative to prison time," Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, told Hair Balls via e-mail.

And according to documents from the TDCJ, Harris County inmates accounted for a large portion of the reduction.

There were about 800 fewer Harris County inmates in Texas prisons in 2009 than 2008, the time frame reviewed in the federal report. That's a bigger drop than Dallas, Travis and Tarrant counties combined. Bexar County actually increased the number of inmates it sent to state prison during that time.

According to the Justice Department report, the findings mark the first time during this decade that the country's overall state prison population has decreased.

Texas had the fourth-biggest drop -- down 1,257 inmates -- behind Michigan, California, New York and Mississippi.

Despite the reduction of state inmates, the overall prison population grew slightly because of an increase in federal prisoners. And some states, like Alabama and Arizona, continued to increase their prison populations.

For the federal report, only prisons "run by a state or the federal government and typically hold prisoners with sentences of more than 1 year" were examined. But, if you're thinking that the growth of private prisons might have something to do with the decrease in Texas, you'd be wrong.

"Private prisons really don't have an impact as we have the same number of private prison contracts now that we have had for quite some time," Lyons said.

The Justice Department report says that a separate study, "Prisoners in 2009," will discuss factors that contributed to the decrease.

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