There’s more good news for public safety in Texas. Texas Department of Public Safety officials announced on Friday that the state’s index crime rate per 100,000 people fell 8.3 percent in 2011 compared with 2010. This included a 14.3 percent drop in murders, a 15.4 percent drop in robberies, and a 4.3 percent drop in rapes. The various types of property crimes fell between 8 and 9 percent. While any of these crimes is too many if you are the victim, this is a very significant decline in a one year period.
Indeed, Texas’ crime drop in 2011 far outpaced the national decline. Nationally, violent crime fell 4.0 percent in 2011 compared with 2010 while property crime dropped 0.8 percent.
Of course, innumerable factors, some of which involve public policy and some of which do not, can influence changes in crime rates, such as demographics, socioeconomic conditions, law enforcement effectiveness, and the recidivism rate of those who are on probation or parole.
One thing we do know is that there were 155,892 inmates in Texas prisons at the end of December 2010 and 156,197 at the end of December 2011. Texas added 423,200 legal residents over a 12 month period including parts of 2010 and 2012. Accordingly, Texas’ adult incarceration rate would have declined from approximately 620 per 100,000 people in 2010 to 611 in 2011, a 1.45 percent drop.
We also know that, from fiscal year 2010 to 2011, Texas achieved a drop in felony probation revocations to prison, which fell from 24,239 to 23,881. The drop was even steeper among probation departments participating in the state’s voluntary funding program whereby they receive funds for lowering caseloads and implementing evidence-based practices such as graduated sanctions in exchange for setting a goal of fewer technical revocations, which are revocations for conduct such as missing meetings that does not involve a new crime. The minority of departments that do not participate actually slightly increased their revocations from 2010 to 2011.
The bottom line is that, while many factors are likely responsible for Texas’ tumbling crime rate, we do know it has not been accomplished by increasing incarceration. Indeed, in August 2011 Texas’ closed a medium or high security prison for the first time in history, as the capacity was no longer needed. Moreover, this is a continuation of the trend, which has seen Texas’ index crime rate fall 12.8 percent from 2005 to 2010 while its incarceration rate has dropped 9.0 percent over this period. The latest data should encourage Texas lawmakers to continue moving in this direction in the next session and cause even more states to look at Texas as a model for strengthening alternatives to incarceration to more cost-effectively hold nonviolent offenders accountable and protect public safety.