Budget Crunch Offers No Hope for Reduction in Incarceration in Texas

By Dr. Charles Kiker

Some pundits have speculated that the budget crises in the states could result in reduced incarceration. After all, reduction in prison populations could save states a bundle. Alan Bean has a couple of recent posts on the Friends of Justice blog that deal with this prospect: “Why are Newt and Grover jumping on the prison reform bandwagon?” (January 8, 2011) and “Is mass incarceration history?” (January 18, 2011). Bean doesn’t hold out much hope, as indicated by his comment in the latter article: “We may see a year or two of minor decline in the prison population, but when happy days are here again politicians will start banging the ‘tough on crime’ drum?

If Texas is to lead the way out of mass incarceration mania, as the Lone Star State led the way into it, Bean’s pessimism is justified. Scott Henson’s blog “Grits for Breakfast” provides the best barometer I know of concerning what’s happening in Texas regarding criminal justice. In his January 21 post “Adult probation cuts detailed from just filed Texas budget bill,” Henson notes that massive cuts in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice budget will be in probation and parole. It is important to note that the bill has not passed but is a starting point for deliberations by the legislature in the upcoming session. But the bill as filed would:

• Eliminate funding for misdemeanor probation supervision;

• Reduce treatment/diversion programs including the elimination of 800 probation residential treatment beds;

• Reduce funding levels for mental health services and continuity of care for adult offenders;

• Reduce funding for mental health services and continuity of care for adult offenders;

• Eliminate staffing and funding for Project Reintegration of Offenders;

• Reduce funding for offender Psychiatric care;

• Reduce staffing and funding for nearly 100 parole officers and support staff;

• Eliminate funding for approximately 550 halfway house and intermediate sanction facility beds.

This is just a summary of Scott’s post. It seems clear that, if some prisoners are released early for budgetary savings, the reduction in prison population will be temporary whether happy days return or not. If the bill as posted becomes law, they will be released with reduced supervision and support, accompanied by an increase in recidivism.

Hopefully, legislators will realize that if this bill becomes law, prison expenditures will increase rather than decrease in the long term. If not, we ain’t seen nuthin’ yet in the way of mass incarceration.

Charles Kiker is a retired minister and founding member of Friends of Justice who lives in Tulia, Texas.

One thought on “Budget Crunch Offers No Hope for Reduction in Incarceration in Texas

  1. The bill referenced above is the House bill. The Senate bill, which Grits describes in a post this morning, makes less draconian cuts in services, but that’s still where the vast majority of TDCJ cuts come from. See Grits for Breakfast January 25 for suggestions on reducing Texas’ prison population to a point where several Texas prisons could be closed, garnering much greater savings than the counter-productive cuts being proposed. but it probably ain’t gonna happen.

Comments are closed.