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Texas Prisoners Serve Average of 58% of Their Sentences

by Matt Clarke

According to a recent report by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), during fiscal year (FY) 2010, Texas state prisoners served an average of 58% of their sentences before being released. That percentage is down from 60% in FY 2006. The average sentence length was 19.2 years, and time served before release averaged slightly more than 11 years.

The TDCJ’s 12,000 state jail prisoners served sentences ranging from six months to two years, and averaged one year. Such short terms provided little time for early release.

The sentences for other TDCJ prisoners ranged from two years to life without parole or the death penalty. Among the prisoners entering Texas state prisons in FY 2010, the average sentence length was around 10 years for violent offenders and about 5.8 years for prisoners convicted of drug offenses.

In FY 2010, about 12,000 prisoners were admitted for violent crimes such as robbery, sexual assault and kidnapping. Around 950 were admitted for murder while about 9,000 were sent to prison for drug offenses and 3,800 for DWI. In FY 2010, 247 new arrivals to the TDCJ were sentenced to life, 85 to life without parole and 7 were sentenced to death. Most Texas prisoners were serving sentences between 3 and 5 years.

Of the TDCJ’s 140,000 prisoners in FY 2010, about 93% were male. Approximately 51,000 were black (36.4%), 45,000 were Hispanic (32%), 42,000 were white (30%) and 708 fell into the “other race” category (0.5%). Around 58% had high school diplomas or GEDs, a 2% increase over FY 2009. The average educational achievement for Texas prisoners was close to 8th grade level in state prisons, but about 7th grade level in state jails.

TDCJ spokeswoman Michelle Lyons attributed much of prisoners’ criminal behavior to a lack of education.

“If they don’t feel they have job skills, then they have to find other ways of making money, like stealing, selling drugs or getting involved in other criminal activities,” said Lyons, who noted that two legislative sessions ago the state passed laws to increase funding for prisoner education, including literacy and drug treatment programs. “That makes their chances of success rise for when they get out,” she stated.

Lyons was correct in saying that prisoner education has helped to reduce recidivism. What she failed to mention, however, is that during the last legislative session the vocational and academic programs in Texas prisons were gutted in the name of austerity and “closing the budget gap.” How that will affect future demographics for Texas prisoners remains to be seen.


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