NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

NCPA Study: Texas Crime Turnaround

November 28, 2000

After two decades of rising crime, Texas's serious crime rate fell much faster than the nation as a whole in the 1990s -- 42 percent in Texas compared to only 34 percent nationally.

The success of Texas in the 1990s can be attributed to controversial policies to increase the prison population by building more prisons and keeping prisoners locked up longer, according to a new study by Morgan Reynolds, director of the NCPA's Criminal Justice Center.

In 1999 Texas recorded its lowest crime rate since 1974. Reynolds says this is due in part to the steady rise in a criminal's "expected punishment." Expected punishment is defined as "the length of time in prison a typical criminal can expect to serve per crime, given the probabilities of being apprehended, prosecuted, convicted and sent to prison." Thus, in Texas:

  • For every murder committed, a criminal can expect to spend 9.1 years behind bars -- up from 2.9 years in 1990.
  • For every act of rape, a criminal can expect to spend 742 days behind bars -- up from 216 days in 1990.
  • For every robbery committed, a criminal can expect to spend 217 days behind bars -- up from 75 days in 1990.
  • For every aggravated assault committed, a criminal can expect to spend 52 days behind bars - up from 13 days in 1990.

In the 1980s the number of Texas prisoners did not grow due to a severe shortage of prison capacity. By 1990, inmates were serving less than 20 percent of their sentences. In the 1990s Texas reversed course, building more prisons and restricting parole. One result of this expansion is that Texas now has more criminals under state supervision each day than any other state.

Source: Morgan Reynolds, "Crime and Punishment in Texas in the 1990s," Policy Study No. 237, November 2000, National Center for Policy Analysis.  


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