Newspaper clipping headlined "Texas prison system in vise of crisis," undated
Dallas Times Herald clipping headlined "Texas prison system in vise of crisis," undated, concerning the conundrum the Texas Department of Corrections faces as the overburdened parole system contributes to the higher rate of repeat offenders who are thus jailed, creating a greater prison population. This article includes statistics and a table with outlining the "Texas prison population crisis."
Texas Prison SystemTexas Probation CommissionTexas. Department of Corrections
Criminal statisticsPrisons--OvercrowdingParolePrisons administration
"White Interregnum, 1983-1986"
Texas A&M University
Cushing Memorial Library and Archives
"William P. Clements Campaign Records, 1977-1989"
Campaign Records Addendum
Texas A & M university
Clements Texas Papers
University in Huntsville. The only answer. criminal justice experts say, is a thorough examina- tion and overhaul of the entire sys- tem, including sentencing reform, intensified probation programs and construction of more prisons. But a massive overhaul becomes in itself another challenging and expensive proposition, made more difficult because the Texas Legisla- ture is trying to cut state agency budgets and raise new revenue to : cover the state's bills. "With creative leadership, we can solve the problems. Without , that, we will be ducking and dodg- ing the court orders and kind of moving from one crisis to anoth- er," said Sen. Ray Farabee, D- Wichita Falls. "Some people don't seem to real- • ize that with limited funds, you're not going to get any easy answers like building another big prison • and staffing it and stacking more people that come in. You're going to have to send a message finally that ... there's not a lot of happy solutions." - To ease the population problem in the prisons, the Board of Par- dons and Paroles dramatically in- creased inmate releases, creating a caseload crisis in its own agency. Local judges, too, aware of the _ Texas Department of Corrections' . capacity limits, have increased the numbers of offenders on probation, • while the Legislature has cut funds for probation by 17.5 percent. Case overloads in both areas have contributed to an increased number of prisoners returning to TDC and caused more violent of- finders to be out on the street with less supervision. To make room for an onprece- dented number of new inmate ad- missions and keep TDC from ei- ther shutting its doors or triggering mandatory early releases, the pa- role system has increased prisoner : releases l, 55 percent in the fiscal year eliding Aug. 31. By law, some intnates must be let out of prison early when the capacity reaches 95 percent. But while the flood of releases . has allowed TDC to squeak by, pushing enough inmates out the backdoor so more can be let in the front door, it has caused parole caseloads to skyrocket, climbing to 89 in the past year even though studies show 63 is the maximum number an officer can effectively supervise. Even TDC admits the parole pro- gram has not proved an effective tool in combatting overcrowding in prisons. "Parole selection is involved in resolving the TDC capacity prob- lem," says a recent in-house report, "Parole Supervision Workload: A critical overload." The report goes on to admit, "Unfortunately, re- solving the TDC capacity problem through release exacerbates an al- ready critical parole supervision capacity problem." As the parole board steps up its release of prisoners, it, ironically, also contributes to the increase in admissions to TDC. While the percentage of offend- ers returning to prison because of parole violations has remained sta- ble at about 15 percent through the years, the increase in parolees has caused the actual number of viola- tors returning to prison to rise. Thus in the year ending August 1986, the number of parole viola- tors returned to prison jumped to `,i77, 4,377, compared to 3,596 in 1985. ate "Crime continues to go up and .! you lock a lot more people up. The t wheel starts spinning faster and ..„ derhasiwenlowkeddownafew pegs because of the lack of physi- cal resources,- Friel said. "There are people going on probation to- day that 10 years ago, nobody would have put out on probation. We've got our backs against the wall financially so we take a great- er risk. And those risks are show- ing up." Indeed, the tendency to put more risky offenders on probation appears to have backfired in many cases, with an increasing number ending up in prison anyway. In the fiscal year ending August 1984, 7,917 offenders were sent to state prison because of probation violations. In 1985, the number was 8,371. This year, probation officials estimate based on 11 months of data, it will be 10,413 — a 24.4 per- cent increase. "That's been kind of a double whammy for the system," said Byrd. At the same time the number of probationers is increasing, the sys- tem is having to cope with a 17.5 percent overall reduction in rev- enue mandated by the Legislature in 1985 in its efforts to balance the budget in the face of dwindling funds. Dick Lewis, a spokesman for the Texas Adult Probation Commis- sion, said hit the hardest by the cuts was a new program called in- tensive supervision probation, which was designed to divert of- fenders away from TDC. It sent a higher risk offender to a probation specialist with smaller caseloads and more time to devote to supervision. Forced to cut the program by 21 percent, the commission reduced its capacity from 4,500 to 3,600 and sent nearly 1,000 of its participants to regular probation. Judges, limit- ed by the number they could now send to the program, either sent the higher risk offender to regular probation or to TDC, adding to the overload in both systems. In essence you reduce the re- sources for that program, a diver- sionary effort, and the next thing you know you have a rise in the number of people that are going to TDC," said Lewis. TDC, meanwhile, because of a rise in crime and the increases in parole and probation violators, is confronting admission rates that exceed all predictions. "It's something that was unantic- ipated and has continued over the long term," said -James Riley, TDC's deputy director for opera- tions. "I guess all those variables together has just caught us a little bit flat-footed based on what we expected and ... this economic re- cession and upswing in crime has also caught us a little unprepared as well." A July report by the Criminal Justice Policy Council estimates prison admissions will climb from 30,537 in fiscal 1986 to 31,907 in 1987; to 33,842 in 1988; 35,380 in 1989 and 36,723 in 1990. To keep prison populations be- - Dallas Times Herald low capacity using programs and systems now in place, the report predicted there would have to be an increase in paroles that exceeds anything ever attempted. "The number of releases will have to approximately match the number of admissions with the ex- ception of 1990, when the state would be forced to release more of- fenders than are admitted in order to meet (a court) depopulation schedule," the report said. "This scenario shows that it will be ex- tremely difficult for the state to manage the prison population in the next two to five years through releases." "We don't control what comes in the front door or goes out the back- door," said Riley. "And so, if they continue to come in the front door and our capacity is fixed as it is now, the only other alternative is to let them out the backdoor." But in testimony in federal court, Byrd said speedy prison releases have caused the percentage of TDC inmates eligible for parole to shrink. "It is my opinion that this parole eligible population is (now) gener- ally more violent and higher in percentage of repeat offenders," he said. If paroles are not increased, the policy council suggests there will have to be a prison building boom estimated to cost the state nearly $300 million during the next five years. In the meantime, the problem may become more immediate next Wednesday, when a federal judge's order requiring TDC to cut 395 beds from its capacity goes into ef- fect. Without the extra capacity, new admissions are expected to propel the system closer to the population limit that triggers earli- er releases. The state has asked a higher court to overrule the judge's order. "It's reached a point where they've got to acknowledge that they can't keep all the prisoners that the counties would like to send them. They've got to let them go," said William Bennett Turner, a lawyer whose class action suit against the prison system on behalf of inmates sparked a far-reaching reform order. "That's the way reform results," he added. "You see it's a no-win situation for the politicans. They can't do anything that gains them votes on the prison issue. If they vote to spend iore money on pris- ons, increase the number or quality of prisons, they get thrown out be- cause they are a budget buster and fiscally irresponsible. If they vote to release convicted felons they get voted out for being soft on crime.' Still, Friel said the only solution is reform. "We sort of keep throwing these laws out there.... It's like trying to put a fire out by throwing some lit- tle Dixie cups of water here and little Dixie cups of water there, in- stead of saying, 'Let's step back and say the problem is, the whole damn house is on fire.'" faster and faster, and you get no- where," said John Byrd. executive director of the state Pardons and Parole Board. The whole system is so inter- meshed, says criminal justice ex- pert Friel, that a problem at one level creates a ripple down the line. TDC's overcrowding problems have created an environment, he t4' believes, that encourages judges to 5 sentence more offenders to proba- tion and send only the most dan- gerous to prison. As a result, average caseloads for probation officers have shot up 5 from 143 in the year ending Au- gust 1985 to 192 for the same peri- od in 1986. In some metropolitan areas, the probation caseloads reach as high as 220 and 250 per officer. By comparison, the Legis- lature has set a statewide standard - 8 a,? 4=. 8 Si uoileindod •Av co Si co Si 0 Si Ali3VdV3 GNV NOliVindOd 03 0 17 =2 %I a -4 am X/ tt, .$4 bS Si as to in Si as as r.) cn § A •tr, t's) Si A '84 `,* cc) Si co 0 01 r.) Cl 8 <3.is z <2b. o 42'5.13 fl 7. CO Si cxl a) t0 ma 03 02 ac F8-5ass Si RgOq. A'9 N f°,3.3.c3 ,A U.q• £ I -V 140Slaid ees esueld