Texas, the Leader in Incarcerations, Tries to Reduce Its Prison Population

Oct 22, 2015

More than a few Texans are part of a new bipartisan coalition of more than 100 law enforcement officials meeting in Washington to talk about one thing: reducing the number of people in prison.

The list includes the police chiefs from both Dallas and Houston, plus Travis County Sheriff Greg Hamilton. Texas continues to have the largest prison population among states, with more than 160,000 inmates in correctional facilities. But, Texas has been making efforts to cut down on the number of inmates in the state’s prisons.

Mark Levin, the director of the Center for Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, has been working on reducing Texas prison populations since 2005. He says that a critical turning point came in 2007.

That’s the year, Levin says, when state lawmakers begin to put money into keeping people out of prison, including establishing courts to handle only drug cases – the goal being to avoid handing down jail time for minor offenses. Levin says since 2007, the state’s closed three adult prisons and eight juvenile facilities. The prison population has also fallen since then – down three percent since 2007, according to data from the U.S. Department of Justice. So what’s going on specifically here in Travis County?

“There’s been discussions, for example, around a sobriety center, which they do have in Houston,” Levin says. “So people who are drunk or inebriated can be brought somewhere to be stabilized other than the jail.”

Travis County Commissioners earlier this week approved starting negotiations with the City of Austin over how this sobriety center would be run, but nothing is certain yet.