Like most states, Texas’ prison population has exploded in recent decades, growing more than fivefold between 1980 and 2016.

Unsurprisingly, Texas’ mass incarceration crisis has had an enormous impact on people of color, especially Black people. As of 2014, the per capita imprisonment rate for Black people in Texas was the 10th highest in the country and four times that of white people in the state. While Black people constituted only 12 percent of the total state population in 2016, they made up 34 percent of the Texas prison population. Ending mass incarceration is a critical — although insufficient — step towards addressing racial disparities in Texas’ criminal justice system as well as its broader society.

Texas can dramatically reduce its prison population by implementing just a few sensible reforms:

  • Reforming mandatory minimum and severe sentencing enhancement laws.
  • Promoting alternatives to incarceration like substance abuse treatment, mental health care, and other programs.
  • Giving judges the ability to use options other than incarceration rather than being mandated by the legislature to send people to prison for certain crimes.
  • Improving parole and release policies and practices to ensure that more eligible people are released earlier from prison.

If Texas were to follow these and other reforms in this Smart Justice 50-State Blueprint, 71,722 fewer people would be in prison in Texas by 2025, saving over $3 billion that could be invested in schools, services, and other resources that would strengthen communities.

A report with detailed breakdowns of Texas’ prison population and the reforms needed to reduce it is available for download below.

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