The ACLU of Texas defends the civil rights and civil liberties of all people in Texas, in courtrooms, at the state legislature, and in large and small communities throughout the Lone Star State. We are committed to helping Texas re-envision a justice system that is fair and free of racial bias, keeps our communities safe, and respects the rights of all who come into contact with it.
World’s Largest Jailer
With an incarcerated population of well over two million, the United States has earned the disgraceful distinction of being the world’s largest jailer, ahead of China and Russia. We have 5 percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. More than one in 100 adults in this country were behind bars in 2008, and one in 35 adults is under correctional supervision (prison, jail, probation, or parole). A shocking one-in-nine young black men (ages 20-34) are behind bars, and racial bias infects the system at every turn.
Driven by the “War on Drugs” and the “tough on crime” policies of the 1980s and 1990s, America’s prisons are now bursting at the seams with people charged with non-violent offenses, the mentally ill, the elderly, children charged as adults, and those with drug addiction in need of treatment. Further, the resurgence of debtors’ prisons has put thousands in jail for being too poor to pay fines for traffic tickets or other minor misdemeanors
Incarcerating people is very expensive. Texas has an annual corrections budget of about $3 billion. That money could be better spent on education and programs to improve our communities.
Community supervision programs, such as probation, are a way to rehabilitate people charged with low-level offenses while allowing them to contribute to society. Under community supervision, these people can report to a probation officer while holding down jobs and paying taxes, supporting their families, raising their children, and attending community events and religious services. The result saves tax dollars and makes our communities safer by reducing the recidivism rate. For example, the average felony community supervision revocation rate was 14.7 percent in 2010. That is much less than the state jail reincarceration rate of 31.9 percent (in 2007), or the prison reincarceration rate of 24.3 percent (in 2007).
Smart Reform is Possible
Because of discriminatory laws on the books and biased enforcement, people of color are vastly overrepresented in the justice system. As a result, more African Americans are under correctional control today than were enslaved in 1850. This injustice has had severe economic, social, and political impacts; overincarceration has become the contemporary face of American racism and apartheid.
Americans are now paying the price: in the midst of an economic crisis, incarceration and related costs are the second-fastest growing category of state budgets, with 90 percent of this spending going to prisons. Fortunately, the tide is turning against incarceration as a one-size-fits-all solution to crime and social ills.
The ACLU is collaborating with conservatives and progressives alike to push for thoughtful deincarceration policies, working not only to stem the flow of people into prisons, but also to shrink the number of people inside prisons. Smart, effective reform is possible.
- Texas has the 4th highest incarceration rate in the country, and many prisoners are locked up for non-violent offenses like drug possession
- Texas spends seven times more on incarceration than on higher education.
- Non-violent and drug offenses account for 81% of all new inmates.
- An estimated 65,000 inmates leave Texas prisons and return to their communities each year. Almost one-third will return to prison within three years.
- Between 1980 and 2004, Texas’ prison population increased by 566%; during the same time corrections spending increased by 1,600%.
- About 40% of Texas’ population is non-white; about 70% of Texas’ prison population is non-white.
- 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.
- While the classification of “violent crimes” includes homicide and pedophilia, it also includes less violent offenses including fighting, resisting arrest, and even illegal possession of pepper spray.