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Examining the TX Prison Reform Model, Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis, 2015

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EXAMINING THE TEXAS PRISON REFORM MODEL:
How Texas is Maintaining Racial Disparity and Mass Incarceration
May 14, 2015
Caitlin M. Dunklee, MPAff
Rebecca A. Larsen, MSSW, MPAff

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Prior to 2007, the Texas criminal justice system was often described as overcrowded, lawless, and
abusive. Today, however, Texas is considered a model of reform and is lauded for halting prison
population growth and averting the need to build new prisons.
In 2007 the Legislative Budget Board projected that the State would need to spend approximately $2.5
billion over five years on the construction and staffing of 17,000 new prison beds to accommodate
persistent increases in incarceration (Council of State Governments Justice Center, 2009). Faced with a
fiscal crisis, the 80th Legislature adjusted criminal justice spending to fund 4,500 new diversion beds for
outpatient substance abuse treatment for individuals on probation, and increased in-prison treatment
(CSG Justice Center, 2009). This legislative package became known as the Texas Model. Following the
adoption of the Texas Model, the growth of incarceration slowed, and the State averted major prison
construction.
While Texas is increasingly considered a model of reform, a closer look reveals major shortcomings in
criminal justice reform. This brief analyzes data from 2003 to 2013 to explore how the Texas criminal
justice reform model has affected incarceration in Texas. Specifically, this brief considers whether the
model has reduced incarceration or racial disproportionality in the Texas State prison system.

The findings of this analysis show:
•

•

•
•
•

•

Since the establishment of the Texas prison reform model, the State has failed to reduce the
number of individuals it incarcerates or significantly decrease racial disproportionality. These
failures call into question the effectiveness of the Texas Model of prison reform.
Texas continues to imprison more people than any other state, driving the nation’s incarceration
rate. While Texas’s rate of incarceration has dropped during the last seven years, it still ranks
fifth highest in the nation, and first among the most populous states.
In 2013, Texas increased the number of people it incarcerates, despite national trends that
indicated decreased incarceration in several of the most populous states.
Texas continues to disproportionately incarcerate African Americans.
The Texas Model was developed to save taxpayer dollars. While cost savings is a compelling
component of prison reform, fiscal austerity reform designs fail to address the underlying drivers
of mass incarceration.
In 2014, Pew Charitable Trusts found that the states that reduced incarceration the most
experienced the greatest decline in crime rates (Pew, 2014).

In light of these findings, Texas has an opportunity to set a new course for effective and equitable
reform. Specifically, Texas can:
1) reduce the number of individuals living in prison by addressing the underlying causes of mass
incarceration, 2) replace the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s antiquated racial classification
system with a self-identification system that more accurately gathers information about both race and
ethnicity, and 3) mandate that racial impact statements be produced for all proposed criminal justice
legislation.

INCARCERATION IN A NATIONAL CONTEXT
Prior to the 1970s, the United States
incarcerated 2.2 million people, and an
incarceration rate remained at about 100 per
estimated 4.7 million people were on probation
100,000
residents Several states, including New York, and parole (Bureau of
(Perkinson, 2012, p.
Justice Statistics, 2014).
302). In 1968, however, New Jersey, and California, have According to the National
“law and order” became substantially reduced incarceration Academy of Sciences, “the
a preeminent political through a range of means, including growth in incarceration
issue in the presidential sentencing reform.
rates in the United States
campaign, laying the
over the past 40 years is
foundation for the rapid prison expansion
historically unprecedented and internationally
undertaken in the 1970s (Alexander, 2010, p.
unique” (National Research Council, 2014, p.
46). In 1971, President Nixon declared the War
2). This scope of imprisonment has earned the
on Drugs, a massive expansion in law
descriptor, “mass incarceration.”
enforcement, which was the leading cause of the
United States prison boom (Drug Policy
Between 2003 and 2013, however, the growth
Alliance, 2014). Between the late 1960s and
of both the rate of incarceration and the number
2000, the United States incarceration rate
of incarcerated individuals has slowed
increased by 600% (Alexander, 2014). As of
nationally and decreased substantially in some
December 31, 2013, the United States
states (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2014).
2

Several states, including New York, New
Jersey, and California, have substantially
reduced incarceration through a range of means,
including sentencing reform (Austin et. al.,
2013, p. 12). Unfortunately, increases in the
number of individuals that Texas and several

other jurisdictions incarcerate, overshadowed
the success of these states, leading to the first
national increase of the number of incarcerated
individuals since 2009 (Bureau of Justice
Statistics, 2014).

DAMAGING EFFECTS OF INCARCERATION
Mass incarceration is critiqued in many ways and from many perspectives. Below is an outline of
commonly made critiques:

Incarceration disproportionately affects low-income communities of color
Research demonstrates that the disproportionate incarceration of African Americans is related to policy
and practice. According to the American Psychological Association (2014), “... the nation's get-toughon-crime policies have packed prisons and jails to the bursting point, largely with poor, uneducated
people of color, about half of whom suffer from mental health problems” (p. 1). The starkly
disproportionate incarceration of people of color, and in particular African American men, is
consistently raised as a crisis of human and civil rights (The Sentencing Project, 2013).

Incarceration causes harmful collateral consequences
Collateral consequences are penalties, aside from a sentence, that result from a criminal conviction.
These penalties result in barriers to acquiring living-wage employment, safe housing, government
benefits, financial credit, and higher education. Combined, these collateral consequences contribute to
high rates of recidivism (Alexander, 2010).

Incarceration harms children and families
The incarceration of a caregiver can lead to the immediate loss of financial support, changes in family
structure, poor school performance, and increased risk of abuse or neglect. In communities that are
disproportionately targeted for incarceration, local economic vitality is undermined, and negative
perceptions of police and the legal system are common (The Urban Institute, 2005).

Incarceration wastes taxpayer dollars
Especially during periods of fiscal austerity, the high costs of incarceration concern taxpayers. This
critique is made from both the Right and the Left. While the former generally seeks to cut budgets and
size back what it considers to be big-government spending, the latter advocates redirecting funds away
from correctional budgets and towards programs that it identifies as more effective in building safe
communities, like education and healthcare (Levin & Reddy, 2013; Austin, et. al., 2013).

3

Incarceration is ineffective at reducing crime
Researchers have wrestled with the question of whether incarceration reduces crime. The American
Psychological Association (2014) found no causal link between rising incarceration and reduced crime.
In fact, an analysis released by Pew in 2014 found that states that reduced incarceration the most
saw the greatest decline in crime rates (Pew, 2014).

Incarceration threatens public health and fails to address mental illness
Research shows that incarcerated persons develop health issues at an earlier age than the general
population (Kirchhoff, 2010) and experience higher rates of infectious and chronic diseases, substance
abuse, mental illness and trauma (Justice and Health, 2013; Buck, 2008; Conklin,
2002). Criminalization of mental health has led to more than half of all people in prison and jail
experiencing a mental health diagnosis, including 56% in state prisons, 45% in federal prisons, and 64%
in local jails (Buck, S. 2008). Health care and mental health care in prisons are historically inadequate,
harming both individuals and the communities to which they return.

UNDERLYING CAUSES OF MASS INCARCERATION
The policies and practices that gave rise to
significantly increased incarceration by raising
unprecedentedly high rates of incarceration
the likelihood of becoming incarcerated and
were the result of a variety of converging
lengthening prison sentences (National Research
historical, social, economic, and political forces
Council, 2014, p. 70).
(National Research Council, 2014, p. 128).
Federal and state policies
The practices of law enforcement
looked to incarceration as the Texas prosecutes 100,000
and courts coincided with this
truancy
cases
annually,
answer to the high crime rates
wave of harsher policies. Police
in the 1970s and 1980s more than twice the number units focused on arresting street(National Research Council, prosecuted in all other states level drug users and dealers, and
2014, p. 70). The War on Drugs
prosecutors, judges, and parole
combined
(Texas
Appleseed,
produced harsher penalties and
boards dealt more harshly with
an increased police force, many 2015).
crimes
(National
Research
of which were targeted at lowCouncil,
2014,
p.
70).
income communities of color (Drug Policy
Substantial amounts of research have discovered
Alliance, 2014). For example, federal legislation
a correlation between race and the likelihood of
passed in the 1980s established a penalty
arrest, and race and the likelihood of harsher
structure that punished possession of crack
penalties (Mauer, 2011; Alexander, 2010). Once
cocaine at up to 100 times more severely than
convicted, African American men receive
possession of powder cocaine (Sentencing
longer sentences compared to White men (The
Project, 2010). Despite similar rates of drug use
Sentencing Project, 2013; Spohn, 2011; U.S.
among races, the enforcement of this federal
Sentencing Commission, 2010). The U.S.
legislation
disproportionately
targeted
Sentencing Commission (2010) reported the
communities of color (Sentencing Project,
federal system gave African Americans
2010). State policies also shifted with the toughsentences that were 10% longer than White
on-crime national trend, producing mandatory
Americans for the same crimes. The
minimums for drug offenses (Erickson, 2013).
Commission also found that mandatory
This combination of state and federal policies
4

minimums are applied disproportionately to
African Americans.

students, students in special education, and lowincome students are starkly overrepresented in
truancy cases (Texas Appleseed, 2015).
Convictions result in a criminal record and may
lead to a court ordered drop out. The
problematic consequences of these policies are
highlighted by the fact that more than 80% of
individuals in Texas prisons dropped out of
school (Texas Appleseed, 2010).

School discipline policies commonly label
classroom misconduct as criminal. Children
removed from the classroom are pushed into a
gauntlet that often channels them into the
juvenile and criminal justice systems. This link
between school discipline, school dropout, and
incarceration is labeled the “School to Prison
Pipeline” and disproportionately impacts
students who are low income, who have
disabilities, or who are racial and ethnic
minorities, despite comparable rates of
“infractions”
(Heitzeg,
2014).
Truancy
criminalization is a leading cause of this
pipeline. Texas prosecutes 100,000 truancy
cases annually, more than twice the number
prosecuted in all other states combined (Texas
Appleseed, 2015). Unlike most states, Texas
prosecutes children accused of truancy in adult
criminal courts (Texas Appleseed, 2015).
Statewide, African American and Hispanic

Public funding structures also significantly
impact poverty, access to education, and access
to mental health care, all of which influence
incarceration (Greenberg & Rosenheck, 2008;
Heitzeg, 2014). Furthermore, once someone is
incarcerated, access to government aid,
employment, housing, and education is
significantly inhibited, often continuing a cycle
that targets low-income people of color
(Alexander, 2010). Each of these underlying
causes drive and maintain mass incarceration
today.

HISTORY OF INCARCERATION IN TEXAS
Texas earned its reputation as a tough-on-crime state through harsh sentences, abusive and sometimes
deadly prison conditions, proud use of the death penalty, and a direct legacy of slavery (Perkinson,
2010).
Throughout the twentieth century, Texas and other Southern states incarcerated at substantially higher
rates than the rest of the country. The incarceration rate in the South was 40% higher than in the North
in 1950, and was 75 % higher in 1980. A report written by the House Study Group1 on overcrowding in
Texas prisons stated that high imprisonment was related to politics more than growth in population or
increases in crime (Perkinson, 2010, p. 302-303). In 1997, the House Research Organization stated that
growth in incarceration was caused by “a burgeoning state population; more punitive policies toward
offenders, especially for violent crimes; tighter restrictions on parole, including longer minimum periods
behind bars before parole eligibility and tougher policies for granting time off sentences for good
conduct; and a stepped-up ‘war on drugs (p.2)’”.
Just as in national politics, “law and order” became a leading political issue in Texas during the 1970s.
In 1973, the Texas Legislature passed substantial changes to drug laws, lowering penalties for certain
low-level marijuana possession charges, but dramatically enhancing sentences for other drugs including
1

The House Study Group is now called the House Research Organization (HRO) and is a nonpartisan
independent department of the Texas House of Representatives. It provides impartial information on legislation
and issues before the Texas Legislature.
5

heroin and LSD. This iteration of the war on drugs in Texas led to a quickly growing prison population
(Perkinson, 2012, p. 305-306).
Between 1968 and 1978 the Texas state population grew by 19%, but the prison population increased
101%, reaching 22,439 in 1978. During the mid-1970s, Texas incarcerated individuals convicted of
felonies at 143 per 100,000, while the national average was 86 per 100,000 (Lucko, 2010).
Texas gradually built new correctional facilities throughout the 1970s, but the State began rapid and
unprecedented prison expansion in the 1980s (Cohen, 2012). All told, between 1980 and 2004, Texas
built 94 state prisons and increased the number of people it incarcerated by 566% (Perkins, 2010). The
Texas corrections budget increased from $600 million in 1985 to $2.4 billion in 2005 (ACLU, 2007), as
the number of people the State incarcerated climbed to 159,255 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2005).
As incarceration soared and Texas began to face budget shortfalls, several legislators identified the costs
of corrections as a problem facing the State.

FISCAL CRISIS AND PRISON PROJECTIONS LEAD TO CONCERN
ABOUT MASS INCARCERATION
In 2003, while at a national convening about corrections during periods of fiscal austerity, former State
Representative Ray Allen, then Chair of the House Committee on Corrections, stated that the fiscal
crisis in Texas was the only circumstance that could lead to criminal justice reform in Texas. “Nothing
short of a 10 to 15 billion dollar crisis would even get people to discuss any alternatives, because we’ve
always done it this way and we’ve done it bigger, and tougher, and meaner than anybody else in the
country” (Campbell, 2003, p. 5).
In 2006 the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) requested $899.3 million for increased bed
capacity and operations (Fabelo, 2007). The same year, Senator John Whitmire, Democratic Chair of the
Criminal Justice Committee, Representative John Madden, Republican Chair of the Corrections
Committee, and Senator Kim Brimer, Republican Chair of Sunset Advisory Commission, held hearings
to identify the underlying causes of persistent growth in the prison population (Council of State
Governments Justice Center, 2012).
Following these hearings and in response to projections released by the Legislative Budget Board
(LBB)2 in 2007 indicating that the State would need to spend approximately $2.5 billion over five years
on the construction and staffing of 17,000 new prison beds to accommodate persistent increases in
incarceration (CSG Justice Center, 2009), Whitmire and Madden successfully lobbied the State
legislature to commission technical assistance from the Justice Center of the Council of State
Governments (CSG Justice Center). The CSG Justice Center is a national nonprofit organization that
serves policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels, from all branches of government. Staff
provides practical, nonpartisan advice and evidence-based, consensus-driven strategies to increase
public safety and strengthen communities (CSG Justice Center, 2015).
2

The Legislative Budget Board (LBB) is a permanent joint committee of the Texas Legislature that develops
budget and policy recommendations for legislative appropriations, completes fiscal analyses for proposed
legislation, and conducts evaluations and reviews to improve the efficiency and performance of state and local
operations.
6

The CSG Justice Center was contracted to “analyze corrections data and assist in developing policy
options that could achieve cost-effective increases in public safety and control the size of the prison
population” (CSG Justice Center, 2009, p. 3). This approach is coined “Justice Reinvestment,” which
according to the CSG Justice Center is a data-driven approach to improve public safety, reduce
corrections and related criminal justice spending, and reinvest savings in strategies that can decrease
crime and reduce recidivism (CSG Justice Center, 2015, p.1).

TEXAS JUSTICE REINVESTMENT INITIATIVE AND THE
EMERGENCE OF THE TEXAS MODEL
In 2007, the CSG Justice Center released a report that found the growth in the Texas prison population
was caused by a) increased probation revocations; b) limited and reduced capacity of residential
treatment programs for individuals on probation and parole; and c) reduced parole approvals (CSG
Justice Center, 2009).
In partnership with the CSG Justice Center, Madden and Whitmire developed a “justice reinvestment
initiative that would address these three drivers of prison growth, generate savings to the State, and
reinvest in strategies that could improve public safety by reducing recidivism” (CSG Justice Center,
2009, p.5). The budget adopted by the legislature in 2007 included $241 million in funding for 4,500
new diversion beds for outpatient substance abuse treatment for individuals on probation, and increased
in-prison treatment (CSG Justice Center, 2009) (See Table 1 below). The decision to fund these new
beds became known as the Texas Model.
Table 1. Treatment Spaces Funded by 2007 Justice Reinvestment Initiative

Community Treatment Initiative

Program
Probation Outpatient Treatment
Probation Residential Treatment

Capacity Increases
3,000 slots
800 beds

Mental Health Pre-Trial Diversion

1,500 slots

In-Prison Treatment Increases

Program

Capacity Increases

State Jail Treatment
In-Prison Therapeutic
Community
DWI Prison Treatment
Intermediate Sanction Facilities
Parole Halfway Houses
Substance Abuse Felony
Punishment

1,200 slots
1,000 slots
500 beds
1,400 beds
300 beds
1,500 beds

Note. Adapted from “Justice Reinvestment in Texas,” The Council of State Governments (2009).

7

According to the CSG Justice Center, funding residential treatment helped to stabilize the Texas prison
population (CSG Justice Center, 2009). As a result of these changes, the LBB revised its prison
population projections, indicating that Texas would no longer face a shortfall of 17,000 beds, and would
instead be operating within capacity. Following the release of these revised projections, a 2008 press
release distributed by the Criminal Justice Legislative Oversight Committee quoted Senator Whitmire:
"With the expanded treatment and new diversion beds funded this last session, Texas will continue to be
the toughest on crime, but we will now also be the smartest (p.1)."

OVERVIEW OF PRAISE FOR THE TEXAS MODEL
Since 2007, the Texas Model has received
praise from around the country. Headlines read:
“Prison reform is bigger in Texas” (The Daily
Beast), “Texas leads the way in needed criminal
justice reforms” (Washington Post), and “What
Texas is teaching the country about mass
incarceration” (U.S. News).

According to U.S. News commentary, “Given
the success of the policies instituted, Texas and
the right-leaning states that followed its
lead have provided
political
cover
for
Republicans nationwide – particularly after the
red wave of the 2014 midterms – to hop on
board with measures that would cut down on
prison populations across the country.” (Sneed,
2014).

This praise describes Texas as a national model
for prison reform. Specifically, the Texas
Model is credited for stabilizing the Texas
prison population (AL.com, 2014), reducing the
number of people Texas incarcerates (Horswell,
2009), closing prisons (Nuzzi, 2014), and
prioritizing treatment and diverting individuals
with low-level offenses to alternative to
incarceration programs (Horswell, 2009).

According to Rick Perry: “…in 2007, with
broad support from Republicans and Democrats
alike, Texas fundamentally changed its course
on criminal justice. We focused on diverting
people with drug addiction issues from entering
prison in the first place, and programs to keep
them from returning.” (Solutions: American
Leaders Speak Out on Criminal Justice,
Brennan Center, 2015).

THE STATE OF INCARCERATION IN TEXAS3
Considering the national praise for the Texas Model, it is important to evaluate the current state of
incarceration in Texas and determine how the State’s incarceration policies and practices affect Texas
communities today. This section analyzes the latest State correctional data available and presents
findings on two questions: 1) Has the Texas Model reduced incarceration? and, 2) Has the Texas Model
reduced racial disproportionality?
3

Inconsistencies and Debate about Texas Prison Data
This brief uses data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the federal agency responsible for collecting,
analyzing, and disseminating data relating to criminal justice. BJS data make possible the comparison of
incarceration across states, and provide a more complete picture of the total number of sentenced prisoners under
the jurisdiction of TDCJ. TDCJ data only capture the number of individuals currently inside of Texas state
prisons, which does not include all sentenced state prisoners who may be temporarily held in other types of state
correctional facilities or county jails. While TDCJ claims the number of people they imprison has decreased, BJS
shows that the number of people being sentenced to state prison has increased.

8

For the first time since 2009, incarceration in the United States increased slightly in 2013. This change
was driven by state-level incarceration. Texas contributed to this increase by admitting approximately
2,400 more individuals into the custody of the state prison system than it released. Texas also released
8,000 fewer prisoners in 2013 than in 2012, representing a steep 10% drop (Bureau of Justice Statistics,
2014).

Number of People Incarcerated

Texas remains the nation’s lead incarcerator, with 160,295 individuals living behind state bars as of
December 31, 2013, an increase from 157,900 in 2012. Texas has the fifth highest incarceration rate in
the nation, and the leading rate among the most populous states. Texas decreased its incarceration rate
from 710 incarcerated individuals per 100,000 residents in 2003, to 602 in 2013. This rate inflected
upwards slightly between 2012 and 2013. Both the raw number of incarcerated individuals and the rate
of incarceration are extreme in comparison to the four other most populous states in the U.S. (See Table
2) (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2014).

Texas Prison Population, 2003-2013

200,000
190,000
180,000
170,000
160,000
150,000
140,000
130,000
120,000
110,000
100,000

Texas State
Prison Population

2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Figure 1. Texas Prison Population, 2003-2013. Developed from data reported in “Correctional Populations in the United
States,” Bureau of Justice Statistics (2013).

Table 2. Incarceration in Most Populous States, 2013

State Prison Population
California
Texas
New York
Florida
Illinois

135,981
160,295
53,428
103,028
48,653

State Incarceration Rate
Per 100,000
353
602
271
524
377

Note. Developed from data reported in “Correctional Populations in the United States,” Bureau of Justice Statistics (2013).

9

Number of Individuals Incarcerated

200,000

State Incarceration in Texas as Compared to Other Most
Populous States, 2003-2013

180,000

Texas State Prison
Polulation

160,000
140,000

California

120,000
100,000
80,000

New York

60,000
40,000

Florida

20,000
0
2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013

Figure 2. State Incarceration in Texas as Compared to Other Most Populous States, 2003-2013. Developed from data
reported in “Correctional Populations in the United States,” Bureau of Justice Statistics (2013).

The Texas Department of Public Safety determines crime rates by calculating violent and property
crimes. Violent crime in Texas has dropped during the last 10 years, from 553 violent crimes per
100,000 residents in 2003 to just fewer than 400 in 2013. The property crime rate has also dropped
during the last 10 years, decreasing 3.1% between 2012 and 2013 (Texas Department of Public Safety,
2013). Despite this steady drop in crime, incarceration has remained mostly steady.

A NOTE ON RACE AND ETHNICITY
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) does not
report state-level racial distribution data, and so
this brief uses TDCJ statistical reports and U.S.
Census Bureau data to calculate racial
disproportionality. Unfortunately the outdated
racial categories and data collection methods
used by TDCJ are substantially different than
those used by the Census Bureau.

Demographers
commonly
make
two
recommendations: 1) distinguish between race
and ethnicity and collect information on both,
and 2) collect data through self-reporting
(National Reporting System and Public
Education Information Management System,
2015). The Federal Office of Management and
Budget further recommend allowing individuals
to check more than one racial category to
accurately capture multicultural identities
(OMB, 1997b).

While definitions of race and ethnicity vary and
are the subject of much debate, Racial
Formation in the United States by Omi and
Winant (1986) provides commonly cited
definitions. Race is a social construct, where
racial categories are determined by social,
economic and political forces. Though race is
often linked to ethnicity, nationality and
national heritage inform ethnicity (Omi &
Winant, 1986).

The Census Bureau collects data on both race
and ethnicity. To collect data on race the Census
Bureau asks individuals to self-identify as
American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black
or African American, Native Hawaiian or Other
Pacific Islander, or White (U.S. Census Bureau,

10

2013). To determine Hispanic/Latino ethnicity,
the Census Bureau asks individuals to selfidentify as either Hispanic or Latino or not
Hispanic or Latino. “Hispanic or Latino” refers
to a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican,
South or Central American, or other Spanish
culture or origin regardless of race (U.S. Census
Bureau, 2011a).

ethnicity. Instead of self-identifying one’s race,
TDCJ generally relies on the perceptions of
intake personnel to assign incarcerated
individuals with one of four racial categories:
White, Black, Hispanic, and Other (TDCJ
Intake Department, phone call, 2015; TDCJ,
2013).
By failing to properly collect
information on race and ethnicity, TDCJ
produces inaccurate and incomplete data,
making it difficult to fully understand
disproportionate incarceration.

Despite advancements in demography, TDCJ’s
classification system still conflates race and

In a March 23rd, 2015 call with the TDCJ Intake Department, a staff person who requested to remain
anonymous responded to question about racial classification:

Researcher: How do intake personnel decide what a person’s race is?
Intake Personnel: “If they’re Black they’re Black.”
Researcher: So, intake personnel look at a person’s complexion, phenotype, and
facial characteristics and then assign him/her a race?
Intake: Yes.
Researcher: What if an individual identifies as both Black and Hispanic?
Intake: “Then it goes by what they look like.”

While there are training materials about how to assign a person’s race if it is not clear to staff, that
information is not public according to intake personnel.

THE EFFECT OF CHANGING DEMOGRAPHICS ON
INCARCERATION IN TEXAS
Texas is a rapidly growing state. Between 2000 and 2010, the State population grew by 20% (U.S.
Census Bureau, 2011b). State demographics are also shifting. The 2000 Census reported that the Texas
population was 52.4% White, 32% Hispanic, and 11.3% Black. In 2013, the Census estimated that
Texas is approximately 44% White, 12.4% Black, and 38.4% Hispanic.
While Texas incarceration demographics have also changed, the prison system is still characterized by
the stark and disproportionate incarceration of African Americans.
For decades, Texas has incarcerated African Americans at far higher levels than their White and
Hispanic counterparts. In 2003, 40% of the individuals incarcerated by the State prison system, overseen
by TDCJ, were African American, despite African Americans comprising about 11.3% of the State
population.

11

In 2013, a striking 35% of individuals in Texas State prisons were African American,
despite African Americans comprising 12.4% of the State population.
Alternatively, White individuals are incarcerated at a level under the proportion of their State
population. In 2003, White individuals comprised 31.26% of the State prison population but about 50%
of the State population. In 2013, the TDCJ population was 31.45% White, while White individuals
comprised about 44% of the State population. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015; TDCJ, 2013).
Texas increased Hispanic incarceration from 2003 to 2013. In 2003, when Hispanic individuals
comprised about 32% of the State population, they represented 28% of the incarcerated population. In
2013, the overall Hispanic population grew to 38.4%, and the Hispanic incarcerated population
increased to 33%4 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015; TDCJ, 2013).

Percentage	
  of	
  Popula/on	
  by	
  Race	
  

Percentage of Population Incarcerated in Texas by Race Compared to
Overall Population in Texas by Race in 2013
50%	
  
40%	
  
30%	
  

TX	
  Incarcera;on	
  by	
  Race	
  

20%	
  

TX	
  Popula;on	
  by	
  Race	
  

10%	
  
0%	
  
Black	
  	
  

White	
  	
  

Hispanic	
  	
  

Race	
  of	
  Texas	
  Incarcerated	
  and	
  Overall	
  Popula/on	
  	
  

Figure 3. Race of Texas Incarcerated Population in 2013. Developed from data reported in “Correctional Populations
in the United States,” Bureau of Justice Statistics (2013).

An analysis of the intersection of race and sex among the TDCJ population reveals several important
trends. The proportion of African American women in TDCJ has decreased from 3.22% in 2003 to
2.47% in 2013. The proportion of African American men in TDCJ has decreased from 37% to 33%
since 2003. The proportion of White men in TDCJ has decreased slightly, while the proportion of White
women has increased. The proportion of Hispanic men has increased from 26.89% in 2003 to 31.15% in
2013, and the proportion of Hispanic women has grown from 1.29% to 1.86%. (TDCJ, 2004-2013).

While the intersection of criminal justice and immigration is a critical issue, especially in Texas, it is beyond the
scope of this brief, and thus the number of Hispanic individuals detained in U.S. Immigration and Customs
Enforcement (ICE) facilities is not included.
4

12

Texas Men Incarcerated by Race, 2003-2013
60000
55000
50000

Black	
  Male	
  

45000

White	
  Male	
  

40000

Hispanic	
  Male	
  

35000
30000
2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013
Figure 4. Texas Men Incarcerated by Race, 2003-2013. Developed from data reported in “Correctional
Populations in the United States,” Bureau of Justice Statistics (2013).

Texas Women Incarcerated by Race, 2003-2013
6000
5000
4000
Black Female
3000

White Female
Hispanic Female

2000
1000
0
2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013

Figure 5. Texas Women Incarcerated by Race, 2003-2013. Developed from data reported in “Correctional
Populations in the United States,” Bureau of Justice Statistics (2013).

Despite some decrease in the number of African Americans incarcerated in Texas, African American
individuals are still incarcerated at three times the rate of their population.

FINDINGS AND DISCUSSION
The analysis in this report reveals that the Texas Model has not reduced the number of people
incarcerated in state prisons, and that the use of imprisonment remains starkly racially disproportionate.
Texas continues to lock up more people than any other state, and has the fifth highest incarceration rate
13

in the country and the highest among the most populous states. In 2013, Texas increased the number of
people the State incarcerates. In 2013, 35% of 160,295 individuals in Texas state prisons were African
American, despite African Americans comprising just 12.4% of the State population (TDCJ, 2013).
Troubling projections from the LBB now indicate that the state will continue to incarcerate about the
same number of people through 2019.
Despite these troubling findings, a recent book of essays edited by the Brennan Center for Justice gave a
platform to several national leaders who perpetuated the myth that Texas has fundamentally changed its
prison system and reduced incarceration. The excerpts below highlight this dangerous praise:

According to U.S Senator Cory Booker: “So-called “red states” like Texas and Georgia — which
have a widely-held reputation for prioritizing law and order — have made sweeping reforms in
recent years to reduce their prison populations” (Brennan Center for Justice, 2015, p.10).
According to former Texas Governor Rick Perry: “States across the country can follow the
successful example of Texas. By offering treatment instead of prison for those with drug and
mental health problems — upon entrance and exit from prison — the United States can eliminate
our incarceration epidemic” (Brennan Center for Justice, 2015, p.85).
According to Marc Levin, Founder and Policy Director of the “Right on Crime Movement”,
Texas Public Policy Foundation, states: “The recent successes of many states in reducing crime,
imprisonment, and costs through reforms grounded in research and conservative principles
provide a blueprint for reform — at the federal level and for states across the country” (Brennan
Center for Justice, 2015, p.71).

Exaggerated praise misattributes changes that have occurred since 2007 to the Texas Model.
While the reforms adopted in 2007 were limited to funding for treatment, during the preceding
biennium, significant changes in probation and parole occurred. Specifically, the number of Texans
sentenced to probation increased by 6%, representing averted incarceration, and the average number of
parole releases each month increased by 14%. These trends have been credited to the Texas Justice
Reinvestment Initiative (CSG Justice Center, 2009, p.2).

Assertions that Texas prioritizes treatment over incarceration are inaccurate. As of
2012, Texas ranked 49th for per capita spending on mental health (Mental Health
Connection, 2012).
In addition, Texas refused to expand Medicaid in 2013, leaving about one million more Texans without
a viable option to access health insurance. Texas now has six million uninsured residents, more than any
other state in the country (Aaronson, 2013). Mental health treatment in TDCJ prisons is completely
inadequate and often inaccessible (Texas Civil Rights Project, 2011).

14

For three legislative sessions the Texas
Legislature has rejected proposals to reduce
incarceration. Since the adoption of the 2007
Justice Reinvestment package, it can be argued
that the Texas Legislature has not passed any
significant legislation to reduce incarceration.
During the 83rd Texas Legislative Session,
policymakers with the support of advocates
introduced dozens of proposals that could have
reduced incarceration in Texas through
sentencing reform. The vast majority of these
bills, however, never received a committee
hearing.

This legislative session, several promising bills,
discussed below, were introduced that would
have lead to reductions in incarceration.
Unfortunately, the Texas legislature once again
demonstrated an unwillingness to pass
legislation that could reduce incarceration and
racial disparity.
In 2011 and 2012 Texas sentenced over 16,000
individuals to state jail5 and separated them
from their families for a drug conviction (Texas
Criminal Justice Coalition, 2015). Eighty-eight
percent of these individuals were convicted for
the possession of less than one gram of a
controlled substance – equivalent to a sugar
packet (Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, 2015).
House Bill 254 / Senate Bill 412 would have
reduced the penalty for possession of small
amounts of controlled substances from a state
jail felony to a class A misdemeanor, allowing
more Texans to remain in their communities and
with their families instead of filling prison beds
(H.B. 254, 2015; S.B. 412, 2015). The Criminal
Jurisprudence Committee refused to allow a
vote on this bill.

The few sentencing reform bills that did
advance out of committee, including a drug
policy bill that could have substantially
decreased incarceration by ending the
prosecution of less than .02 ounces of a
controlled substance, were stalled by the House
Calendars Committee. In fact, 33 new crimes
were created and 20 bills lengthening sentences
for existing crimes became law (Texas District
and County Attorney Association, 2013).
Overall, since the 2007 passage of the Texas
prison reform model, Texas has increased the
number of people it incarcerates. (Bureau of
Justice Statistics, 2008 - 2014).

In Harris County, a tough-on-crime district
attorney prosecutes individuals for possession of
trace amounts of a controlled substance. House
Bill 253 / Senate Bill 419 would have ended this
harmful practice by establishing 0.02 grams
(equivalent to 2/100 of a sugar packet) as the
minimum weight necessary to prosecute. This
legislation would have also protected due
process, as the 0.02 grams is the minimum
weight necessary to be able to properly test the
substance (H.B. 254, 2015; S.B. 412, 2015). The
Criminal Jurisprudence Committee refused to
allow a vote on this bill.

A prominent group of criminal justice
researchers conducted an analysis of Justice
Reinvestment Initiatives around the country.
Their research, released in 2013, produced a
troubling finding: “The Justice Reinvestment
Initiative, as it has come to operate, runs the
danger of institutionalizing mass incarceration
at current levels” (p.1). The report’s analysis of
Justice Reinvestment in Texas is bleak: “The
JRI trumpets Texas’s ‘success,’ and the Texas
reforms were a success in one sense: Texas is
one of our toughest-on-crime states, so any
progress on criminal justice reform is an
accomplishment. However, if the metric is
reduced to corrections populations and costs, the
Texas JRI program must be viewed as a failure”
(Austin, J., et. al., 2013, p.24).

House Bill 3326 would have helped reduce
incarceration in Texas by decreasing
punishment for certain low-level misdemeanor
and felony offenses including low-level
5

State jails are TDCJ prisons that incarcerate individuals
with sentences of two years or less.

15

possession of marijuana and controlled
substances (H.B. 3326, 2015). The House
Calendars Committee chose to prevent a vote on
this bill.

The Texas Legislature once again refused to
address mass incarceration and racial disparity
in a meaningful way. Without intervention,
future mass incarceration will continue to
devastate Texas’s low-income communities of
color.

RECOMMENDATIONS
Recommendation #1: Reduce state-level imprisonment by addressing key underlying causes of mass
incarceration
a) Prohibit admission to prison for technical violations of probation and parole
Texas policy allows for the incarceration of individuals who break the conditions of parole or probation.
These broken rules, called technical violations, are not crimes, but instead include missing curfew,
failing to pay a fee, or having drug use detected in a urinalysis. Incarcerating individuals for technical
violations is unduly harsh and drives mass incarceration in Texas. Many researchers and practitioners
have identified limiting reincarceration for technical violations as a key component of reducing prison
populations (National Council of State Legislatures, 2011; Austin, 2007; The Sentencing Project, 2013).
b) Reduce average length of stay in prison by increasing monthly average parole release rates
Increases in average lengths of stay in prison drive mass incarceration. Longer lengths of stay, however,
have not led to reductions in crime. In fact, research produced by institutes including Pew has found that
reducing lengths of stay can be implemented without negatively affecting public safety (Pew, 2012).
Between 1990 and 2009, the average length of stay in Texas prisons increased by 15% for property
crimes, 14% for drug crimes, and 44% for violent crimes. This average 32% increase in length of stay
drives mass incarceration in Texas (Pew, 2012).
Texas released 8,000 fewer prisoners in 2013 than in 2012 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2014). This 10%
drop is contributing to the maintenance of mass incarceration in Texas. Increasing parole release rates
will lower average lengths of stay, leading to a reduction on the number of individuals living in Texas
prisons.
c) Reduce mass incarceration by reforming harsh drug laws and sentencing.
End criminal prosecution for trace amounts of a controlled substance in Harris County, and prevent the
incarceration of Texans for possession of less than a gram of a controlled substance.
d) Decriminalize School Misconduct
School discipline policies are inexorably linked to mass incarceration. Ending the practice of criminally
prosecuting children accused of truancy will reduce the number of students of color, students with
16

disabilities, and low-income students being disproportionately targeted, expelled, and pushed into the
school to prison gauntlet.
Recommendation #2: Replace TDCJ’s antiquated racial classification system with self-identification
system that gathers information about both race and ethnicity.
Accurately capturing data about the racial and ethnic identities of those incarcerated by TDCJ will
provide a more complete picture of disproportionality. This update will also allow Texas to understand
its incarceration demographics in relation to national and other state trends.
Recommendation #3: Adopt Racial Impact Statement Legislation
Similar to an environmental impact statement and a fiscal impact note, a racial impact statement assesses
the impact of proposed legislation on racial and ethnic minorities. In 2008, Iowa passed legislation
requiring policymakers to submit racial impact statements with criminal justice legislation, after finding
that the state had some of the nation’s most severe racial disparity in its prison population (Mauer,
2009). Shortly after, Connecticut and Wisconsin passed similar legislation (Mauer, 2009). In 2009, State
Representative Harold Dutton similarly introduced a legislation that would have required racial impact
analyses for future criminal justice bills or resolutions. However, Representative Dutton’s proposal
failed to move beyond committee (Criminal Justice Policy Impact Statement, 2009). Advocates and
criminal justice experts (Center for Racial Justice, 2014; Mauer, 2009; Erickson, 2013) recommend the
use of racial impact statements because they utilize data to predict disparate impact. Though the success
of these assessments relies on how policymakers choose to utilize them, racial impact statements have
led to changes in legislation (Center for Racial Justice, 2014; Erickson, 2013; Mauer, 2009). Impact
statements would help Texas policymakers understand whether policies will have unintended and
inequitable effects. Incorporating racial impact statements in future criminal justice legislation is a
strong step toward that goal.

CONCLUSION
Reinforcing a national narrative that celebrates the success of the Texas Model spreads harmful
misinformation about the ability of fiscal austerity designs to substantively reduce incarceration and
racial disproportionality.
To reduce incarceration and the disproportionate imprisonment of people of color, Texas must address
the underlying structural causes of incarceration. The existing Texas Model, which is limited in scope to
a fiscal-savings plan, fails to disrupt the drivers of incarceration, and thus cannot lead to substantial
reductions in incarceration.
Genuine reform is possible in Texas, but will require bold leadership, vigilant attention to ending racial
disparity, and a willingness to address the underlying causes of mass incarceration. The
recommendations proposed in this report provide a few options that can reset the State’s troubled reform
trajectory.

17

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The Institute for Urban Policy Research & Analysis
The University of Texas at Austin
Vision
To become the major policy research organization that identifies, proposes,
and measures solutions to social justice problems that disproportionately affect
populations of color and their communities.

	
  

Kevin Cokley, PhD
Director & Professor

Karen Moran Jackson, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow

Shetal Vohra-Gupta, PhD
Associate Director

Renee Hatcher, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow

Victor O. Obaseki, JD
Policy Coordinator

Ujju Aggarwal, PhD
Postdoctoral Fellow

Leonie Jones, BA
Administrative Associate

23

 

 

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