Texas Acts to Ease Prison Overcrowding

TO ease prison overcrowding, the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles announced this week that it will review for parole in six weeks almost 20,000 inmates - double the usual caseload.

By reducing the number of state prisoners held in county jails, the agency hopes to avoid incurring millions of dollars in federal fines per week.

From 1981 to 1986, Texas spent $1 billion to boost prison capacity 40 percent. Yet drug-related crime caused the incarceration rate to rise faster than growth in the number of prison beds.

To keep the inmate population down, officials paroled 260 percent more inmates in 1991 than in 1985.

For those released in 1991, time served per year of sentence fell to a median of 95 days for violent offenders, 44 days for property offenders, and 40 days for drug offenders, according to the state Criminal Justice Policy Council (CJPC).

Even so, the backlog of felons in county jails awaiting transfer to state prisons grew from zero to 17,000 - more than the total prison population of 36 states. The CJPC predicts the backlog will grow to 28,000 by 1998, despite an additional 25,000 prison beds becoming available by 1995 at a cost of another $1 billion.

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