DOC Population Trend Reversing

After years of unprecedented growth, the Department of Corrections offender population is finally decreasing. According to DOC officials, the total offender count in the system is down by 495 from last summer. The population grew in between 2009 and 2010 by 721 offenders.

“It’s really too soon to pin the decrease on something or really call it a trend, but we are hopeful,” said Neville Massie, Executive Assistant and DOC Legislative Liaison. “The CSG initiative will be investigating the data in order to recommend policies to continue to reduce the population and ensure public safety.”

In June, Governor Mary Fallin, House Speaker Kris Steele and Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman announced the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, a bipartisan effort to engage in a data-driven approach to public safety. Part of this initiative will be to analyze trends and develop policies to improve the justice system, hold offenders accountable and reduce costs.

The Justice Reinvestment Initiative is a partnership of the Council of State Government, the Pew Center on the States and the U.S. Department of Justice. Fourteen other states are participating in the program. According to the CSG, Texas has adopted policies that reduced recidivism and saved $443 million in FY 2008-2009 all while crime rates across the state continued to decline as a result of implementing this program.

In addition to the new initiative, the legislature adopted HB 2131, which will increase eligibility for community sentencing and GPS monitoring. Offenders with lower-level, less-violent offenses will have a more stream-lined process for parole. These reforms could increase need for staff in probation and parole to monitor offenders in the community. DOC is currently developing a staffing plan to address the increase in community sentencing.

“We hope these initiatives will provide some relief for our DOC members who have been furloughed and forced to work with low staff in stressful conditions,” said OPEA Executive Director Sterling Zearley. “Fewer inmates will make prison conditions safer and take some of the pressure off the DOC budget.”

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