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A Portrait of Prisoner Reentry in Texas

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Document date: March 19, 2004
Released online: March 19, 2004

The nonpartisan Urban Institute publishes studies, reports, and books on timely topics worthy of public consideration. The views expressed are those of the authors and should not be attributed to the Urban Institute, its trustees, or its funders.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).


Returning Home: Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry

A Portrait of Prisoner Reentry in Texas is part of a larger Urban Institute initiative entitled Returning Home: Understanding the Challenges of Prisoner Reentry. The purpose of Returning Home is to develop a deeper understanding of the reentry experiences of returning prisoners, their families, and their neighborhoods. With support from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the Houston Endowment, and the JEHT Foundation, the Urban Institute has launched Returning Home in Texas. This research project involves interviews with state prisoners before and after their release from state correctional facilities, interviews with ex-prisoners' family members, focus groups with residents in neighborhoods to which many prisoners return, analysis of extant data on local indicators of community well-being, and interviews with community stakeholders. State laws and policies will also be reviewed to provide the overall political and policy context. The results of this research on reentry in Texas will be published in 2005 and will also be part of a larger cross-state analysis based on Returning Home research conducted in Maryland, Illinois, and Ohio.

Executive Summary

Note on Language

"Confinees" are prisoners under the custody of TDCJ who have been convicted of a state jail felony offense and sentenced to no more than two years in a state jail. "State prisoners" are all other prisoners under the custody of TDCJ. In this report, the term "prisoner" represents all those persons under TDCJ custody, which includes both state prisoners and confinees.

The growing number of prisoners—55,183 in 2001—returning to neighborhoods throughout Texas elevates the importance of prisoner reentry in the state. This report describes the process of prisoner reentry in Texas by examining the policy context surrounding reentry, the characteristics and geographic distribution of the state's returning prisoners, how prisoners are prepared for their release, the process by which they are released, how they are supervised once released, and the social and economic climates of the neighborhoods that are home to the largest numbers of returning prisoners. This report does not attempt to evaluate a specific reentry program nor does it empirically assess reentry policies and practices in Texas. Rather, the report consolidates existing data on incarceration and release trends and presents a new analysis of data on Texas prisoners released in 2001. The data used for this report were derived from several sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), Criminal Justice Policy Council, Texas Department of Public Safety, Houston Police Department, and City of Houston's Planning and Development Department. Highlights from the report follow.

Historical Incarceration and Release Trends. Texas's incarceration and reentry trends are similar to those observed at the national level. Between 1980 and 2001, the total number of prisoners in Texas increased fivefold, from 28,543 to 151,003 prisoners. In this period, the per capita rate of imprisonment in Texas rose 248 percent (from 199 to 693 prisoners per 100,000 residents), mirroring the 242 percent increase in the U.S. imprisonment rate (from 139 to 476 prisoners per 100,000 residents). The growth in Texas's prison population is largely attributable to rising prison admissions and longer lengths of stay in prison. Admissions increased primarily due to an increase in arrests for violent and drug crimes and an increase in the number of felony convictions. Prisoners were spending more time in prison mainly because most received longer sentences and were serving longer portions of their sentences (time served). Falling parole approval rates and legislation requiring prisoners to serve greater percentages of their sentences both contributed to the increase in time served. Texas's release patterns reflect these admissions and population trends: 58,949 prisoners were released from TDCJ prisons and state jails in 2002, nearly six times the number of prisoners released in 1980 (10,636).

Profile of Prisoners Released in 2001. Approximately two-thirds (36,538) of TDCJ prisoners released to Texas addresses were state prisoners and approximately one-third (18,107) were confinees. Most were male (86 percent), and nearly half (44 percent) were non-Hispanic black, a third (32 percent) were non-Hispanic white, and 24 percent were Hispanic. The median age at release was 34. The greatest share (39 percent) of TDCJ releases had been incarcerated for drug offenses; 33 percent had been incarcerated for property offenses; and 17 percent had been incarcerated for violent offenses. One-quarter had violated parole or mandatory supervision either by committing a new offense or a technical violation. The largest share (53 percent) of prisoners released in 2001 had served less than two years in state correctional facilities, and the next largest share (25 percent) had served more than five years. State prisoners were incarcerated, on average, for 4.6 years after serving 47 percent of their sentences. Confinees were incarcerated, on average, for 11 months after serving 100 percent of their sentences.

How Prisoners Are Prepared for Release. In 2002, most TDCJ prisoners participated in work activities, a substantial proportion participated in work-readiness and education programs, and few are documented to have participated in vocational or formal substance abuse treatment programs. TDCJ reports that 85 percent of all prisoners are participating in work activities at any given time, and 69,506 prisoners (35 percent of potential participants) participated in Project Rio—TDCJ's main work-readiness program. Approximately 83,337 prisoners participated in basic educational programs (approximately 42 percent of possible participants), and 12,463 (6 percent of possible participants) participated in college-level courses and vocational classes. At least 9,000 prisoners (5 percent of potential participants) were admitted to TDCJ's formal substance abuse programs prior to release, and at least 8,700 prisoners participated in postrelease inpatient substance abuse programs. Additional prisoners reportedly participated in substance abuse programs, but participation rates for many programs were unavailable.

How Prisoners Are Released. In 2001, 62 percent of Texas prisoners were released through nondiscretionary means (i.e., mandatory release or expiration of sentence). Of the remaining 38 percent, nearly all were released through the approval of the Board of Pardons and Paroles. Most state prisoners were released through a parole board decision; confinees are ineligible for this type of release. The number of prisoners released by a parole board decision has decreased dramatically over the past decade.

Life on the Outside: Parole and Probation Supervision. In 2001, more than half (53 percent) of released prisoners were subject to parole supervision after release (whether released through parole or mandatory supervision), and 2 percent were subject to felony probation supervision after release. While most state prisoners are eligible for postrelease supervision through parole or mandatory supervision, no confinees are. Thus, most (84 percent) state prisoners are subject to postrelease supervision, compared with less than 3 percent of confinees.

Geographic Distribution of Released Prisoners. The vast majority (99 percent) of Texas prisoners released in 2001 were released to Texas communities. Over half (58 percent) returned to 5 of Texas's 254 counties. A quarter (26 percent, or 14,129 prisoners) returned to Harris County, 15 percent (7,971 prisoners) returned to Dallas County, 8 percent (4,097 prisoners) returned to Tarrant County, 6 percent (3,156 prisoners) returned to Bexar County, and 4 percent (2,342 prisoners) returned to Travis County. Examining returns at a more localized level, the largest share (23 percent) of supervised releasees returned to the city of Houston, which is located in Harris County (return zip codes are unavailable for prisoners not released to supervision). Within Houston, these releasees are most heavily concentrated in 5 of the city's 185 zip codes, and these zip codes span seven neighborhoods: Alief, East Houston, East Little York/Homestead, Kashmere Gardens, Trinity/Houston Gardens, Third Ward, and MacGregor. Each of these neighborhoods received more than 200 supervised releasees in 2001, more than returned to some entire counties in Texas. It should be noted that the presence of a halfway house in East Houston may explain the large number of releases returning to that zip code. High levels of poverty and crime also characterize most of these neighborhoods.

Note: This report is available in its entirety in the Portable Document Format (PDF).


This report was updated in April 9, 2004. The following errata sheet explains the changes made:

Errata Sheet: A Portrait of Prisoner Reentry in Texas

This is a listing of the substantive (non-grammatical) errors found in A Portrait of Prisoner Reentry in Texas (Watson, Solomon, La Vigne, and Travis 2004).

  • Page x, first paragraph: the following sentence was added: "Texas's release patterns reflect these admissions and population trends: 58,949 prisoners were released from TDCJ prisons and state jails in 2002, nearly six times the number of prisoners released in 1980 (10,636)."
  • Page x, second paragraph: changed 84 percent to 86 percent; changed 23 percent to 25 percent; and changed 57 percent to 47 percent.
  • Page xi, first paragraph: changed 57 percent to 53 percent.
  • Page xi, second paragraph: changed 59 percent to 58 percent.
  • Page xiv, first paragraph: changed "…five times the number released two decades ago (28,543 in 1980)" to "more than five times the number released two decades ago (10,636 in 1980)."
  • Page 3, figure 1.4: deleted the following note: "Release data after 1987 include prisoners released through parole in absentia (state prisoners paroled from non-TDCJ facilities); prior release data do not because the data are not available for those years" and changed the remaining note to include release data: "None of the admissions or release data include TDCJ prisoners who were admitted to county jails and completed their sentence there" (underline added here to highlight change).
  • Page 12, first paragraph: changed 64 percent to 63 percent.
  • Page 27, fourth paragraph: changed 30 percent to 35 percent.
  • Page 29, fifth paragraph, changed 4 percent to 5 percent.
  • Page 38, first paragraph, changed 1994 to 1992.
  • Page 68, second paragraph, changed 135 to 113 and changed "return to all other zip codes in Houston" to "return to Houston."
  • Page 77, second paragraph, changed 93 percent to 419 percent; changed 3.3 years to 3.4 years; changed 4.5 years to 4.6 years; and changed 57 percent to 47 percent.
  • Page 77, third paragraph, changed 76 percent to 75 percent; changed 39 percent to 38 percent; and changed 61 percent to 62 percent.
  • Page 86, note 52, changed 33,410 to 33,428 and changed 59,572 to 58,949.
  • Page 93, note 161, changed 34,410 to 33,428 and changed 59,572 to 58,949.


Topics/Tags: | Crime/Justice


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