If you interested in the Texas Criminal Justice system you have to follow Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast. He's been covering the attention Texas has been getting lately for it's reform efforts and believes the state does not deserve all of the praise it has gotten from the national media lately.
He recently addressed recent articles in national publications that have held Texas out as a model for creative and smart solutions that deal with crime while still decreasing the number of people behind bars.
Henson’s main argument is that the fact that Texas’ prison population has decreased is a no-brainer considering the state’s crime rate has also steadily declined in recent years. He is also critical of the fact that the pace of reforms has slowed since 2007, when the Texas Legislature enacted significant probation reforms.
Henson is also concerned about Texas’ future progress because he says many of the lawmakers who were behind the 2007 reform push have either left the Legislature or may leave soon. In addition, he points to Texas creating 184 new crimes during the pasts six years and enhancing the punishment for dozens more.
To show how much more progress Texas could make, Henson cites incarceration statistics from several other large states. California, for example, has an overall population of about 38 million and a prison population of 134,534.
Texas, in comparison, has a lower overall population of about 26 million. But it has more prisoners – 166,372, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics cited by the blog.
New York has only 54,210 prisoners, despite having an overall population of about 19.6 million people, the blog says.
Henson ends the post with this thought: “In the scheme of things, Texas is still part of the problem in America on overincarceration, not really yet a vanguard charting new solutions.”
There's no doubt that we could better. However, I don't think we should lose sight of just how far we have come. It hasn't been that long ago that the highlight of every legislative session was the new prisons that would be built. Legislators got elected by pandering to the voters and claiming how "tough on crime" they are. That meant locking up more and more people, for more and more crimes. Common sense was ignored, lawmakers refused to acknowledge that they were committing themselves to spending more and more money. It finally hit home recently, when they realized that it was cheaper to try and keep prisons out of prison instead of locking them up.
So while we still have much more to do, at least we are moving in the right direction.