An annual report by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice shows an increase in offenders imprisoned for violent crimes, despite a decline in such crimes and an overall lower prison population in the state.
In the last 10 years, Texas has seen its prison population decrease by approximately 7 percent, from 156,000 to about 145,000 inmates, according to to the Houston Chronicle.
The number of violent offenders in prison, however, increased by approximately 12 percent despite the rate of violent crime dropping to the lowest it’s been in several decades.
Shannon Edmonds, head of governmental relations for the Austin-based Texas District and County Attorneys Association, said that an uptick in the state’s population – by approximately 4 million people over 10 years – could explain the increase in violent inmates.
“Even if the crime rate just held steady, the population increase by which you multiply that crime rate would logically result in more people coming into the prison system for violent offenses,” Edmonds told the Chronicle.
Others believe that more prisoners are being incarcerated for violent crimes because prosecutors are labeling less serious offenses as “violent crimes.”
“Violent crime is not something that anybody has addressed with policy,” Scott Henson, policy director with the criminal justice reform nonprofit Just Liberty, told the Chronicle. “Almost all of the reform advocacy has been on drug and property crime.
“We’re at five- or six-decade lows, so the idea that it would be increasing can only be that we’re sending people to prison that wouldn’t have been 20 years ago.”
Texas is also reporting record low numbers of prisoners incarcerated for property crimes, but more prisoners serving life sentences. The latter is likely due to changes in the sentencing law in 2005, while a 2015 change increased the threshold for felony theft from $1,500 to $2,500.