Crime and Punishment in Texas in the 1990s

Policy Reports | Crime

No. 237
Thursday, November 30, 2000
by Morgan O. Reynolds


  1. FBI, Crime in the United States: Uniform Crime Reports, annual; Texas Department of Public Safety, Crime in Texas, annual.
  2. The U.S. Department of Justice administers two statistical programs to measure the magnitude, nature and impact of crime: the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program and the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). Index crimes are crimes reported to state agencies or the FBI and compiled in the FBI Index of Crime - part of the UCR program. The NCVS collects detailed information on crimes from a nationally representative sample of approximately 43,000 households to determine the amount of crime according to victims age 12 and older - not all of whom report the crime to the police. Since fewer than four of every 10 crimes are reported, the NCVS is thought to be the best estimate of the true amount of crime, although both systems undercount. For example, the NCVS does not measure murder, crimes against those under age 12 or against those in jails and prisons.
  3. NCPA calculations based on Texas Department of Public Safety, Crime in Texas, annual. Also see DPS, Texas Crime Clock, Crime in Texas 1998, p. 13.
  4. Kathleen O'Leary Morgan and Scott Morgan, eds., Crime State Rankings 2000 (Lawrence, Kan.: Morgan Quitno Press), p. iv.
  5. U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Probation and Parole in the United States, 1998, NCJ 178234, August 1999, p. 2. At the end of 1998 Texas had 555,780 offenders on probation and parole, while California was second with 435,044.
  6. U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 1999, April 2000, NCJ 181643, p 3.
  7. Criminal Justice Policy Council, Projected Percent of Sentence Served for Violent Offenders Convicted of Specific Offense Types.
  8. Charles Friel, Professor of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University, quoted by reporter Diane Jennings in "Full House: Growing inmate population has lawmakers scrambling for alternate solutions," Dallas Morning News, April 9, 2000, p. 47A.
  9. Neighboring state Louisiana stood first at 763 and Oklahoma was third at 653, with Texas second at 704; lowest was Minnesota at 121; see U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 1999, p. 4.
  10. Steve Olafson, "County Jails Boomed, Now Face a Bust," Houston Chronicle, November 12, 1995, p. 37A.
  11. Texas Commission on Jail Standards, Texas County Jail Population Reports, 1992-98.
  12. 702,590 in Texas versus 610,983 in second-place California in 1999. See "U.S. Correctional Population Reaches 6.3 Million Men and Women: Represents 3.1 Percent of the Adult U.S. Population," U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Press Release, July 23, 2000, and BJS, Prison and Jail Inmates at Midyear 1999, April 2000, NCJ 181643, p 3.
  13. Calculated based on state adult population of 14,325,695 derived from BJS, Press Release, "U.S. Correctional Population Reaches 6.3 Million Men and Women: Represents 3.1 Percent of the Adult U.S. Population."
  14. Criminal Justice Policy Council, Time Served in Prison, Fiscal Years 1988-1998.
  15. NCPA calculations from Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Statistical Report, annual data, Huntsville, Texas; see Appendix Tables A-7, A-8, and A-9.
  16. The state's 116 prisons and jails have recently run up against capacity limits again; the Texas Department of Criminal Justice now rents about 3,000 beds in county jails and plans to rent another 1,500. Legislators are considering building new prisons to house another 15,000 prisoners by 2005. See James Kimberly, "Leaders say Texas needs new prisons," Houston Chronicle, May 27, 2000, p. 1A.
  17. Criminal Justice Policy Council, Testing the Case for More Incarceration in Texas: The Record So Far, October 5, 1995, State of Texas, first page, unnumbered.
  18. Criminal Justice Policy Council, Testing the Case for More Incarceration in Texas, second unnumbered page.
  19. Criminal Justice Policy Council, The Big Picture Issues in Criminal Justice, Biennial Report to the Governor and the 74th Texas Legislature, January 1995, p. 1.
  20. Morgan O. Reynolds, "Does Punishment Deter?" National Center for Policy Analysis, Policy Backgrounder No. 148, August 17, 1998.
  21. James Kimberly, "Texas may give parolees a break," Houston Chronicle, June 4, 2000, p. 1E.
  22. The parole percentage rose to 26 percent in May 2000 and 24 percent in June 2000. See Associated Press, "Percentage of paroled inmates up," Bryan-College Station Eagle, July 21, 2000, p. A13. Postrelease behavior could also be improved by posting private release bonds. See Morgan O. Reynolds, Privatizing Probation and Parole, National Center for Policy Analysis, Policy Report No. 233, June 2000.
  23. This is true for "crimes of passion" as well as economic crimes. The less costly crime becomes, the more often people fail to control their passions. Incentives matter in all human behavior.
  24. James Q. Wilson, Thinking about Crime, rev. ed. (New York: Basic Books, 1983), p. 117.
  25. W. Kip Viscusi, "The Risks and Rewards of Criminal Activity: A Comprehensive Test of Criminal Deterrence," Journal of Labor Economics, Vol. 4, No. 3, 1986, pp. 317-40; Julie Horney and Ineke H. Marshall, "Risk Perceptions among Serious Offenders: The Role of Crime and Punishment," Criminology, Vol. 30, No. 4, November 1992, pp. 575-91; and Houston Chronicle, Dec. 2, 1990, pp. 1A, 25A and 1D; Stanton Samenow, Straight Talk about Criminals, 1998.
  26. See the literature cited in Morgan O. Reynolds, "Does Punishment Deter?"; Morgan O. Reynolds, Crime and Punishment in America: 1999, NCPA Policy Report No. 229, October 1999; and earlier surveys of the literature in Gordon Tullock, "Does Punishment Deter Crime?" The Public Interest, 36, Summer 1974, pp. 103-11; Morgan O. Reynolds, Crime by Choice (Dallas: Fisher Institute, 1985), ch. 12; and Stephen G. Craig, "The Deterrent Impact of Police: An Examination of a Locally Provided Public Service," Journal of Urban Economics, Vol. 21, 1987, pp. 298-311.
  27. As the author's son, Cameron D. Reynolds, a Texas criminal defense lawyer and former assistant district attorney, says, "It takes a lot to get to prison."
  28. Criminal Justice Policy Council, Time Served in Prison: Nonviolent Offenders, Fiscal Years 1988-1998; Time Served in Prison: Aggravated Offenders, Fiscal Years 1988-1998. See Appendix Table A-8 for estimated median sentences for each category of crime.
  29. Only 1.2 percent of index crimes resulted in a prison admission in 1999; see Appendix Table A-6.
  30. Do low probabilities of death affect behavior? The answer is yes. Ask those sightseeing at the edge of a cliff. Do low probabilities of prison affect criminals? Ask criminals.
  31. Statistics on two probabilities - that of being prosecuted after an arrest and of being convicted if prosecuted - are not available in detail. Fortunately, we do not need such detail to calculate expected punishment. We require only three numbers for each type of crime: (1) the number of new convicts the courts sent to prison for those crimes, (2) the number of those crimes reported to police and (3) the median prison time served by those released from prison. Mathematically, the long calculation-percentage of crimes cleared by arrest multiplied by the ratio of prosecutions to arrests multiplied by the ratio of convictions to prosecutions multiplied by the ratio of those sent to prison to total convictions-equals the ratio of new prisoners to number of crimes, that is, the probability of prison.
  32. One arrest can result in the police "clearing" (solving) more than one crime, a fact that arrest clearance statistics take into account appropriately. This means that the so-called clearance rate usually exceeds arrests divided by reported crimes. While desirable data, arrest clearance rates are not available statewide. Arrests divided by crimes is calculated by adding data on adult arrests to estimated number of juvenile arrests by offense type. See Criminal Justice Policy Council, Statistical Sourcebook
  33. Calculated from FBI, Uniform Crime Reports, annual, and Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Statistical Reports. Admissions to prison and probability of imprisonment are shown in Appendix Tables A-5 and A-6.
  34. Calculated from FBI, Uniform Crime Reports, annual, Department of Public Safety, Crime in Texas, annual, and Texas Department of Criminal Justice, Statistical Reports, annual.
  35. Note that simple linear, two-variable regressions or correlations fail to fit the expected punishment/crime rate data very well, only yielding a strongly significant negative association between punishment and crime rate in the (least likely?) case of murder. These results are likely explained by the fact that the data are highly nonlinear, suggesting alternative regression models, and the failure to control for demographic and other variables. See references above for statistical crime models that support the power of criminal justice variables to suppress criminal activity.
  36. See Morgan O. Reynolds, "The Long Arm of Federal Juvenile Crime Law Shortened," National Center for Policy Analysis, Brief Analysis No. 235, July 15, 1997.
  37. Criminal Justice Policy Council, Juvenile Arrests Declined in 1997 And 1998 After a Steady Increase From 1988 to 1996, p. 2.
  38. Criminal Justice Policy Council, Adult Arrests in Texas by Offense Category, 1988-1998, p. 11, and Criminal Justice Policy Council document, p. 8.
  39. This ratio continued to grow to 16.8 percent in the latest numbers because juvenile arrests have diminished more slowly than those of adults.
  40. Adjusted for the growth in population ages 10-16, the arrest rate per 100,000 youths declined 17 percent. Calculation from Criminal Justice Policy Council document
  41. Steven D. Levitt, "Juvenile Crime and Punishment," Journal of Political Economy, Vol. 106, No. 6, December 1998, pp. 1156-85.
  42. Criminal Justice Policy Council document,p. 8.
  43. Ibid., p. 7. This calculation excludes criminals who end their sentences in the adult justice system.
  44. Ibid., p. 11.2.
  45. Texas Fact Book 2000, p. 18.
  46. See Steven D. Levitt, "Using Electoral Cycles in Police Hiring to Estimate the Effect of Police on Crime," National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc., Working Paper No. 4991, January 1995.
  47. People v. Defore, 242 NY 21 (1926).
  48. 384 US 543.
  49. Macklin Fleming, The Price of Perfect Justice (New York: Basic Books, 1974); Reynolds, Crime by Choice, ch. 8; Robert James Bidinotto, ed., Criminal Justice? The Legal System Versus Individual Responsibility (Irvington-on-Hudson, N.Y.: Foundation for Education, 1994); and Paul G. Cassell, "Handcuffing the Cops: Miranda's Harmful Effects on Law Enforcement," National Center for Policy Analysis, Policy Report No. 218, August 1998. In Dickerson v. United States, decided last June and argued by Cassell on behalf of the United States, the Supreme Court refused to overturn its "creative" 1966 Miranda ruling.
  50. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals operates independent of the Texas Supreme Court, while the federal court system does not separate criminal appeals from civil appeals.
  51. John R. Lott Jr., More Guns, Less Crime (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998).
  52. However, economist Steven Levitt finds that the young male share of population has a much smaller impact on crime than previously believed, increasing the crimes by no more than 1 percent per year. Rises in juvenile crime rates, for example, have been offset by declines in adult crime rates. See his article, "The Limited Role of Changing Age Structure in Explaining Aggregate Crime Rates," Criminology, Vol. 37, No. 3, 1999, pp. 581-97.
  53. See Texas Fact Book 2000 and U.S. Department of Commerce, Statistical Abstract of the United States 1999.
  54. Connie Mabin, Associated Press, "Child poverty rate in Texas still lags most of nation," Houston Chronicle, June 20, 2000
  55. Patrick Fagan, "Congress's Role in Improving Juvenile Delinquency Data," Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder No. 1351, March 10, 2000.
  56. Mabin, "Child poverty rate in Texas still lags most of nation."

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