By Frank Knaack Associate Director of Public Policy and Advocacy Lock ‘em up and throw away the key!  While this “tough on crime” rhetoric may sound good on the campaign trail, in reality it undermines public safety, wastes valuable tax dollars, and violates the basic human rights of countless Texans.  Here are just a few of the real world implications of our failed criminal justice system:

  • Between 1980 and 2004, Texas’ prison population increased by 566%; during the same time corrections spending increased by 1,600%.
  • In Texas, African Americans make up just 12% of the population, but account for 44% of the total prison and jail population.
  • Texas spends seven times more on incarceration than on higher education.
  • Non-violent and drug offenses account for 81% of all new inmates.
  • Texas’ imprisonment rate (691 per 100,000 residents) is three times higher than that of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
  • Of the roughly 170,000 people in Texas prisons, about 90,000, more than half, are classified as non-violent.
  • Cost to keep one person in prison per day in Texas: between $40-50.  Cost to keep one person on probation per day in Texas: $2
  • Incarceration doesn’t stop drug use. States with higher rates of incarceration for drug violations actually show higher, not lower, rates of drug use. That’s because incarceration without rehabilitation results in a revolving prison door. By contrast, rehabilitation returns a person to society able to function better than before and less likely to re-offend.
  • Texas spends $300 million a year to incarcerate non-violent drug users.
  • Evidence shows that all races use drugs at about the same rate, but Texas arrests and incarcerates a disproportionate number of people of color for drug possession. In Texas, African Americans are imprisoned five times more than whites, and Latinos at almost twice the rate of whites.
Tough on crime has failed, it is time for us to be smart on crime.  As we have discussed on this blog before, Texas has made great strides toward a smarter criminal justice system – but there is still a long way to go. Join us, and numerous other human rights organizations and activists on March 31st for a community conference titled Civil Rights in the 21st Century: Uniting Communities for Justice.  We’ll discuss over-incarceration, and, more importantly, come together as a community to strategize and implement a plan to end this expensive, abusive, and dangerous practice. To learn more about the conference and find out how to register please visit