COMMITTEE LOOKS AT PRISON POPULATION GROWTH
(AUSTIN) — Juvenile incarceration rates are projected to increase while adult rates should remain flat, according to testimony offered at a joint hearing of the Criminal Justice Legislative Oversight Committee and Joint Select Committee of Operation and Management of the Texas Youth Commission (TYC). Juvenile incarceration plunged following legislation last session that removed misdemeanor offenders from TYC facilities, but the population is beginning to rise again. Adult prison population projections have reversed from projections offered last year, again the result of legislation passed during the 80th Legislative Session.
Legislative Budget Board (LBB) officials offered projections to the joint committee Wednesday relating to the future of juvenile incarceration in Texas. Despite the decrease in average incarceration time for youths, from 18 months to 14, the population is projected to grow at a slow to moderate rate for the next five years. This contrasts with projected growth for the juvenile probation population to remain flat in the future. This contradicts common sense, said committee co-chair Senator John Whitmire, who believes that if incarceration rates are up, then there should be a concurrent increase in probation population. LBB official Michelle Connelly said her agency is looking at its projection model, and will travel around the state to talk with stakeholders in juvenile criminal justice to try and get a handle on the actual day-to-day working of the process. Whitmire wants the model to include data on how keeping kids in TYC facilities close to their homes would affect recidivism rates. Committee member Harold Dutton asked for the model to look at how extending mental health care to offenders after their release would reduce recidivism.
Legislation passed during the last session has reversed trends in the adult prison population growth, according to further LBB testimony. In January 2007, projections showed growth in the prison population, and flat growth for the parole and probation populations. June 2008 projections show just the opposite: flat prison population growth and slow growth in parole and parole populations. This was attributed to changing standards in parole approval, as well as an increase in diversionary treatment programs for offenders.