AUSTIN – Revised projections from the Legislative Budget Board confirm that legislative proposals reflecting research and recommendations from the Texas Public Policy Foundation have postponed the need for new prisons by at least two years.
“Our extensive research convinced us that Texas did not need to add prison capacity right now,” said Marc Levin, Director of the Foundation’s Center for Effective Justice. “We have made the case that strengthening community supervision and rehabilitation and work programs for non-violent offenders would cost the taxpayers less and increase public safety, and the new LBB projections bear that out.”
The Legislative Budget Board (LBB), a research arm of the Texas Legislature, produces a report each year, “Adult and Juvenile Correctional Population Projections,” that includes a six-year forecast of projected prison populations. Last year’s report, covering fiscal years 2007-2012, estimated that the state’s prison population would exceed the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s (TDCJ) operating capacity by more than 17,300 beds in FY 2012.
“Building our way out of last year’s shortage would have been disastrous for taxpayers,” Levin explained. “Those new prisons would have cost taxpayers $1.6 billion to build and operate. Our research has found much more cost effective ways to reduce criminal behavior.”
Among the alternatives to new prison construction that the Legislature approved last year:
* Probation reform and continued use of a performance-based grant program that rewards local probation departments for fewer technical revocations to prison;
* Capacity increases for community-based treatment and intermediate sanctions facilities; and
* Expansion of drug courts, which divert minor drug offenders from prison into a rigorous regimen of treatment, drug testing, and employment.
The new report shows the current-year prison population at TDCJ’s operating capacity and increasing by only 2,100 inmates through 2012. LBB’s lower estimates are due to fewer new felons than previously projected, a slightly higher parole rate, decreases in the number of parole and probation violators being revoked to prison, and the anticipated effects of expanded treatment and rehabilitation programs.
“Criminal justice and public safety are core functions of government, but as with other areas of government, we must continually work to maximize the results obtained for every dollar spent while increasing effectiveness at the same time,” Levin said. “The new LBB projections show that the alternatives to prison we recommended will achieve the intended savings to taxpayers. Moreover, our research, as well as prior studies by the state, indicates that the new diversions for nonviolent offenders will improve key public safety benchmarks such as recidivism and restitution paid to crime victims.”
The Texas Public Policy Foundation is a non-profit, free-market research institute based in Austin.
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