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Jeanette Moll | July 10, 2012
This week, Texas’ Department of Public Safety released new data on the continued downward trend in Texas crime rates. Specifically, Texas saw an 8.3 percent drop in property crime and a 9.3 percent drop in violent crime. This included a 14.3 percent drop in murders, a 15.4 percent drop in robberies, and a 4.3 percent drop in rapes. The drop in Texas outpaced the decrease in crime rates nationwide — only a 0.8 percent drop in property crime and 4 percent in violent crime.
Significantly, this crime rate drop came while Texas’ incarceration rate dropped 1.45 percent, it closed a prison, and it continued to emphasize alternatives to incarceration for low-level non-violent offenders.
This stands in marked contrast to states which have yet to reconsider the failed criminal justice policies of the past.
For example, while Illinois has not yet released its statewide crime rate data, the FBI released data on selected cities in the state, and the numbers are discouraging. In Chicago, the murder rate dropped only 0.5 percent and the robbery rate dropped 1.7 percent. Burglaries increased 0.8 percent, and 1.9 percent more cars were stolen. The violent crime index also increased in Illinois’ next largest city, Aurora.
These increased crime rates have myriad causes, but it is important to note that Illinois is a state which has been slow to consider data and evidence-driven criminal justice reforms.
Illinois is projected to hit 146% percent of prison capacity in February of 2013 with an all-time high prison population over 49,000. That prison population has grown from 44,669 in 2005 to 47,504 in 2009, an increase of six percent, widely outpacing the state’s population growth of only three percent.
As the overcrowded prison situation approaches meltdown in Illinois, the state is seeking to close prisons to save money, but this could come at a significant cost to public safety both inside prison walls and out. In contrast, when Texas closed a prison last year, the closure was clearly warranted given the empty beds. Right on Crime has previously noted how important it is to reduce unnecessary prison placements before closing facilities in order to prevent careless releases of violent inmates. Illinois also has troubling cuts in probation services planned.
Illinois put itself in this precarious position by mismanaging an early release program in 2009 (namely, applying it to dangerous criminals rather than to prisoners given a careful risk and needs analysis) as well its failure to consider alternatives for low-level and non-violent crimes.
Texas’ example, on the other hand, shows how smart criminal justice policies can cut costs and keep prison populations in check, all while crime rates decrease in proportions outpacing the rest of the country.