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Texas, California among states seeing a reduction in incarceration rates

Published: Monday, Aug. 20 2012 4:52 p.m. MDT

The Texas incarceration rate is at its lowest in five years, and with incarceration rates dropping in states around the country, experts are pointing to rehabilitation and alternative programs as major reasons why.

"Instead of 156,500 prisoners behind bars in Texas' 111 state prisons a year ago, the lockups now hold just over 154,000 — a drop of about 2,500, according to state statistics," reported The Statesman. "Texas, which historically has had one of the highest incarceration rates per capita of the 50 states, is now in fourth place, down from second two years ago."

Texas incarcerates 648 people per 100,000 residents, according to Bureau of Justice statistics, which is behind the rate of Louisiana at 867 per 100,000, as well as the rates of Mississippi and Oklahoma.

The reason for the reductions in Texas and states like California are hard to pinpoint, but these states are handling certain offenders and cases differently in recent years.

"Texas now houses more than 152,000, compared with about 134,000 inmates in California, according to recent statistics from both prison systems," reported McClatchy. "Florida was a distant third, with about 100,000 inmates as of June."

Laws and regulations that were introduced years ago appear to be showing tangible effects.

"Texas' prison population has dipped because of diversion programs lawmakers invested in five years ago, ranging from halfway houses to specialty courts that address cases involving mentally ill people and drunken drivers, said Jason Clark, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice," reported McClatchy.

Along with a reduction in the number of prisoners has come a reduction in the costs associated with housing them. In Texas, the cost of incarcerating a convict is more than $18,000 a year, not counting medical costs, reported the Associated Press.

"Instead of sending more and more lawbreakers to prison, judges in Texas and other states are increasingly sentencing them to alternative treatment and rehabilitation programs that have proven more effective — and that cost much less," reported The Statesman.

Some say nonviolent offenders and those with relatively minor offenses benefit more from alternative treatment programs and do not belong in prison in the first place.

"Prisons should be reserved for the worst of the worst, the violent criminals, murderers, child molesters we should definitely be afraid of," said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, in The Statesman. "We have a lot of other inmates in there that could probably be housed someplace else, at less cost."

These programs provide a mutual benefit by alleviating costs on the prison system while offering the chance for offenders to rebuild their lives in a more conducive setting.

"For most nonviolent offenders, community-based initiatives are much cheaper and have much better outcomes," said Marc Levin, director of the Austin-based Center for Effective Justice and a leader in the national Right on Crime campaign, which promotes community-justice solutions, according to The Statesman article. "In this time of tight budgets and programs that work, this is the conservative thing to do."

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