Pubdate: Mon, 28 Aug 2000
Source: Ft. Worth Star-Telegram (TX)
Copyright: 2000 Star-Telegram, Fort Worth, Texas
Author: John Moritz


If The State Were A Country, It Would Have The World's Highest 
Incarceration Rate, A Study Says.

AUSTIN -- The Texas prison system grew faster than any other in the country 
over the past decade, and one out of every 20 adults in the state is under 
the watch of the criminal justice system, according to national study 
released today.

"The sheer numbers of people in prison and jail in Texas are signs of 
system fixated on punishment and devoid of compassion," said Vincent 
Schiraldi, the director of the Justice Policy Institute of Washington, 
D.C., and a co-author of the report, Texas Tough: An Analysis of 
Incarceration and Crime Trends in the Lone Star State.

According to the institute's study, Texas also has the nation's largest 
populations of probationers and parolees.

The report confirms statistics that have long been known to state criminal 
justice policy analysts, and several proponents of tough sanctions for 
lawbreakers said the numbers represent the sentiments of most Texans.

"We didn't have this prison building boom by happenstance," said Dianne 
Clements, president of the crime-victims advocacy group, Justice for All. 
"It happened because the citizens and taxpayers who live here every day 
determined that they would no longer abide a revolving-door prison system. 
We realize there is a cost, and we are ready to foot the bill."

That cost was high and will probably get higher. In the early 1990s, Texas 
voters authorized spending $1.7 billion in bonds to triple the size of the 
state's prison system, which now exceeds 150,000 beds.

When lawmakers return to Austin in January, they will be asked to send a 
$500 million bond package to the voters for the construction of three 
maximum-security units.

In all, 163,190 state inmates are in custody in Texas, compared with 
163,107 in California, according to the institute, which supports 
alternatives to prison.

Tony Fabelo, who heads the Texas Criminal Justice Policy Council, which 
assesses prison needs for state lawmakers, said the institute's figures 
include inmates housed in low-risk substance-abuse treatment facilities and 
those in county jails awaiting transfer to state facilities.

Other significant findings:

* The Texas prison population's average annual increase of 11.8 percent 
during the 1990s was not only the highest growth in the nation, but was 
almost twice the average annual growth of the other states.

* If Texas were a country, it would have the highest incarceration rate in 
the world, easily surpassing that of the United States and Russia, the next 
two finishers, and would be seven times that of the next biggest prison 
system in China.

* Blacks in Texas are incarcerated at seven times the rate of whites, and 
nearly one in three young African-American men in Texas is under some form 
of criminal justice control.

The institute is a think tank of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal 
Justice, and the study was paid for with a grant from the Center on Crime, 
Communities and Culture. The groups provide programs for families of 
inmates and look for other solutions to criminal behavior beyond prisons, 
such as substance abuse treatment.

The institute determined that Texas added 98,000 inmates to its prison 
system in the '90s, which is almost 25,000 more inmates than the population 
of New York's entire system. Yet, since 1995, New York's decline in crime 
was four times greater than that of Texas, the study found.

New York and Texas have almost the same population.

According to the study, the crime rate declined much more slowly in Texas 
than it did in other large states. From 1993 to 1998, crime in the Lone 
Star State fell 5.1 percent, half the national average, and the least of 
any of the nation's five largest states.

"If locking more people up really reduced crime, Texas should have the 
lowest crime rate in the country," said Jason Ziedenberg, another co-author 
of the study. "The cost of having one in three young black men under 
criminal justice control is a steep price to pay for the states' lackluster 
crime declines."

But a spokesman for Gov. George W. Bush, the Republican presidential 
nominee, defended the state's criminal justice policies as tough but fair.

"Clearly Texas was right to develop strong laws for dealing with criminal 
activities and strong laws covering juvenile crime to let them know that 
there are consequences for their behavior," said Bush press aide Mike Jones.

"What the authors of that study might not understand is that Texas also has 
been very aggressive in using rehabilitation efforts and faith-based 
organizations to change people's hearts. The bottom line to all these 
efforts is that, under Gov. Bush, Texas has the lowest violent crime rate 
in 26 years and the lowest murder rate since the 1950s."

But state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, said Texas should be receptive to 
critical assessments of its institutions and open to suggestions of policy 

"I think it is helpful that groups such as this force us to take a look at 
impact of our policies," Ellis said. "I firmly believe in punishing those 
who break the law, but these are some pretty graphic statistics.

"We have to realize that our `lock them up and throw away the key' 
mentality is costing us a lot of money. Maybe there is too much emphasis on 
dealing with criminal justice issues on the back end of life rather than on 
the front end."

This report contains material from The Associated Press.
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