Between 1890 and 2000, Texas’ prison population quadrupled with over 150,000 inmates dependent on the state. In a five year period, Texas had built 38 new prisons, adding an additional $1 billion to the annual cost of correctional expenditures. In 2007, prior to major reforms, Texas spent nearly $3 billion a year on prisons and parole.
In 2007, Texas faced an exploding prison population. Though prisons were at full capacity, there was an expected 17,000 new inmates entering the system with a projected cost of $450 million. Former Governor Rick Perry (R) undertook a bipartisan effort to reform the Texas criminal justice system, creating a more effective prison system and saving millions for taxpayers.
In 2007, Texas implemented a series of necessary reforms under the Whitmire/Madden Correctional Treatment and Diversion Plan to reduce the number of incarcerated persons at any given time. Such reforms include:
In providing the discretion to the judges, less egregious, but more effective, punishments were handed down to offenders which offered an opportunity for redemption. The revenue saved from reduced prison populations was put to anti-recidivism programming like: victim assistance, drug treatment, and increased funding focused on taking violent criminals off the streets.
In 2019, Governor Greg Abbott (R) signed legislation that protects the dignity of incarcerated pregnant women. Provisions of this bill include:
Since enacting reforms a decade ago, Texas has saved over $2 billion by reducing the size of its prison populations. Crime rates dropped by 29%, giving Texas the lowest crime rate in its history since 1968. Texas also announced in 2017 it intended to close four more prisons, to save an additional $49.5 million in operating costs and administrative fees. And in 2020, the population of incarcerated Texans decreased enough to warrant closing two more prison facilities, saving the state roughly $20 million. In the last decade Texas has closed ten of its prisons, largely a result of effective prison reform.
Texas serves as an example of the impact of public safety oriented, common sense criminal justice reforms.
Identification of legislation should not be considered an endorsement of support of, or opposition to, such bills.
For a full summary of the initial criminal justice reform legislative action in Texas, click here.