Pubdate: Wed, 30 Aug 2000
Source: Angleton Times (TX)
Address: 700 Western Avenue, Angleton, Texas 77515
Contact:  2000 The Angleton Times
Fax: (409) 849-0230
Author: Karen Bergstresser


ANGLETON - A report issued Monday by the Justice Policy Institute, which
supports alternatives to prison, said Texas has put people in prison at a
faster rate than any other state during the last decade.

"The report is totally accurate, a damning indictment. We are building
prisons just as fast as we are building McDonalds in the State of Texas,"
said Dr. Lawrence Jablecki, Brazoria County Chief Probation Officer. "We
have more people on probation and parole in Texas than any other state."

He said Texas has more people incarcerated than states with a higher
population such as California and New York.

Jablecki sharply criticizes the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which
he believes has abandoned its 1990 promise to distribute resources

"We should dismantle the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and create a
new system," Jablecki said. "It is insane to continue and build prisons."

The change he is looking for would have to come from Austin. Jablecki said
Lieutenant Governor Rick Perry is committed to not building more prisons in

Earlier this month, Tony Fabelo, executive director of the Criminal Justice
Policy Council, told elected officials that without a change in parole rates
and policies for returning parole violators to prison, Texas will likely
need prisons to hold 14,600 additional inmates by August, 2005.

On Friday, Fabelo said Texas' rapid incarceration occurred when the state
went on a prison-building binge. Before that, the state intermittently
released inmates to relieve overcrowding and comply with court-mandated
capacity levels.

"Texas is a very large state with a growing population. In the 1980s, we had
a broken system with a backlog," Fabelo said. "A great deal of the
incarceration has been dealing with the revolving door."

Fabelo said while the incarceration rate grew by 12 percent from 1990-95, it
was 6 percent during 1996-98.

"It has slowed significantly and almost stayed level," he said.

Earlier this month, the Texas prison board recommended building three more
prisons, adding 8,550 beds at a cost of nearly $550 million. It also seeks
another $17 million for additional beds for parole violators, for expansion
of electronic monitoring programs for parolees and for 500 beds in local
lockups. No new prisons are currently planned in Brazoria County.

Jablecki said the "tough-on-crime" rhetoric is a lot of hot-air.

"I reject that philosophy," Jablecki said.

He'd like to see murderers, robbers, rapists, and career thieves locked up
for a long time without possibility of parole. For drug offenders and
"people who only hurt themselves" he proposes treatment rather than time in
prison, saying the measures would free up money benefiting the people of

"We have over 100,000 non-violent offenders incarcerated in Texas," he said,
explaining that he would also like to see changes to stop probationers and
parolees from returning to prison for violations that did not involve
committing a crime.

The JPI report states Texas has 89,400 people incarcerated for non-violent
crimes, more than the entire prison population of New York.

In 1998, TDCJ reported that of its then 130,000 prisoners, 54.8 percent were
being held for a non-violent crime.

Of a total county population of approximately 217,000, Brazoria County now
has 4,518 on probation.

"One in 20 of the Texas adult population is under supervision," Jablecki

For African Americans, the numbers are bleaker. One in three adults are
under supervision, Jablecki said. He thinks the number is more a reflection
of society than what is happening on the streets.

"More are incarcerated than enrolled in colleges and universities," Jablecki

The study states African Americans in Texas are incarcerated at a rate seven
times greater than Caucasians, and probation is given to African Americans
at a lower rate, 20.6 percent of the total probation caseload, than to
Caucasians, 44.9 percent.

"The numbers don't lie," Jablecki said.

Although Texas has seen a drop in crime rate, according to the JPI report,
the Lone Star State lags behind other states. When the national average
dropped 10 percent, Texas' crime index dropped 5.1 percent from 1995-1998.

State Representative Dennis Bonnen said the report is of interest to him,
but he would like to look at all factors and issues studied before making a
comment. He noted that the study was done by a non-profit organization
working with families of inmates for options other than imprisonment.

"I have not had an opportunity to look at the study," Bonnen said.

In a news release Jason [sic] Schiraldi, Justice Policy Institute director
and co-author of the study, said the Texas incarceration numbers show the
prison system is "fixated on punishment and devoid of compassion."

Bonnen argued that the prison system does not decide punishment. That is a
responsibility of the judicial system, where a suspect meets a judge and is
sentenced by his or her own peers, the citizens that serve on a jury, Bonnen

Bonnen described Texas as a law-and-order state.

"We have a good legal system, making certain people have to do appropriate
time for breaking the law," Bonnen said.

The JPI report's co-author Jason Ziedenberg said the study was not a
political swipe at Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the GOP presidential nominee.
Its timing is linked to a Bureau of Justice report, he said. He noted that
Democrat Ann Richards was in office in the early 1990s.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice holds 38,376 acres in Brazoria
County, which represents a quarter of the lands under TDCJ supervision

Without it the state's criminal justice system would be in economic peril,
TDCJ Public Information Officer Larry Fitzgerald told The Times previously.

In the county 2,761 paid employees have become necessary to supervise the
8,464 inmates locked up in six units, providing an approximate payroll of
$73 million annually.

Jablecki and Bonnen both contend the high prison population in Texas is not
an indication that Texans are more inclined to crimes.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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