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Study Shows New Prisons Won't Keep Texas Safe

The Texas Observer recently blogged about the impact of state policies on incarceration rates. The post centers on a recent report released by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) that compares youth crime statistics in California and Texas.

CJCJ found that Texas’s practice of tough sentencing for youth over the last decade focused on long sentences for nonviolent crimes. Meanwhile, the folks in California decreased the overall number of juvenile prisoners by using prison time only for youth convicted of the most violent crimes. They diverted many young adults who formerly would've been imprisoned.

 

Did these two different strategies produce different results? They did in terms of youth prison growth and prison spending, but the two states had identical drops in youth crime. You can read the six-page report to see the detailed numbers.

How was California able to divert youth from the state's youth prison system? The state offered financial incentives to the local youth authorities to keep youth out of the state system, by charging the counties more for low-level offenders. They also created a separate, dedicated funding source (Juvenile Justice Crime Prevention Act of 2002) that provides $100 million in funding each year for local juvenile justice programs. Between 1996 and 2003, the California Youth Authority's population of incarcerated youth fell 52 percent, during a period when the juvenile crime rate fell 31 percent. You can read more about how California lowered their prison population and lowered their crime rate thanks to the Justice Policy Institute report, Cost Effective Youth Corrections (for California, check out pages 8-13).

And unlike Texas, which has youth under the age of 18 locked up with adults in adult prisons, California does not have any youth serving prison time in adult prisons.

As the reforms of the Texas Youth Commission continue, it will be interesting to see if state policymakers change sentencing practices as a result. But of course, any decrease in imprisonment might cut into the bottom line of a couple private prison companies, including GEO Group. But, they would likely save millions of dollars and prevent hardship for thousands of youth, families and communities.