Monday, August 20, 2012

Texas prison population continues to fall

Tony Fabelo served under two Texas Gov. Ann Richards and Gov. George W. Bush as director of the now defunct Criminal Justice Policy Council.  He is best remembered for his staunch advocacy of prison diversion programs for nonviolent offenders.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, Fabelo is the reason Texas policymakers began to question the cost-effectiveness of locking 'em up and throwing away the key. Fabelo offered facts, figures and cogent analysis to drive a message that incarceration isn't the universal answer.

The Texas prison census has dropped by 2,500. Last year, the state's 111 prison units held 156,500 prisoners; this year the count is 154,000. Texas has always had the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rates per capita of all 50 states. Texas now ranks fourth, reported the American-Statesman.

Experts cite a variety of factors, including an aging population, for the drop in crime, but there is little doubt that judges are sending more defendants to rehabilitation programs aimed at curbing drug and alcohol addictions that fuel criminal behavior. The programs are cheaper than prisons, and though the success rate will not be 100 percent, alternatives to incarceration have proven to be effective crime-fighting tools.

"The challenge is to sustain the outcomes to see how far you can go in downsizing prisons. I have my doubts, but it's an interesting time for criminal justice," Fabelo told the American-Statesman's Mike Ward.

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