The number of prisoners in California dropped by 4,000 last year, making Texas’s prison system the nation’s largest, at about 172,000. But the Texas legislature last year approved broad changes to the corrections system there, including expansions of drug treatment programs and drug courts and revisions to parole practices.
“Our violent offenders, we lock them up for a very long time — rapists, murderers, child molestors,” said John Whitmire, a Democratic state senator from Houston and the chairman of the state senate’s criminal justice committee. “The problem was that we weren’t smart about nonviolent offenders. The legislature finally caught up with the public.”
He gave an example.
“We have 5,500 D.W.I offenders in prison,” he said, including people caught driving under the influence who had not been in an accident. “They’re in the general population. As serious as drinking and driving is, we should segregate them and give them treatment.”
The Pew report recommended diverting nonviolent offenders away from prison and using punishments short of reincarceration for minor or technical violations of probation or parole. It also urged states to consider earlier release of some prisoners.
Before the recent changes in Texas, Mr. Whitmire said, “we were recycling nonviolent offenders.”