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Photos of Texas prisons from a 1971 book by Danny Lyons. Politics and prisons By Cary Cardwell Austin High crime rates and institutional resistance to reform threaten to overwhelm Texas’ prison and parole system. About 6,000 convicted offenders are sent to the state’s outdated prisons each year. An inefficient parole system releases only a third of those eligible. As a consequence, the 15 prisons operated by the Texas Dept. of Corrections are overcrowded. Twenty thousand inmates have been squeezed into units built to hold 15,000. Yearly increases of 2,000 \(the net gain after discharges and paroles are comestimates. Most of the state’s prisons are in rural East Texas, where extensive agricultural operations supported by federal subsidies occupy the daylight hours of most inmates, who grow their own food. The field labor is hard, and prisoners are obliged to keep their eyes to the ground. A nonprofessional, all-white force of mounted guards exercises a heavy-fisted control. Anger is not tolerated; an irritated inmate-laborer is said to be “swolled up” and in need of quick deflation with the help of the captain’s saddle reins. “High riders” armed with carbines patrol surrounding prominences to prevent escapes. Rural fortress Into these rural fortresses and fields come increasing numbers of young, streetwise urban blacks. Little vocational training or organized schooling awaits them. A drop in either the crime rate or prison population is unlikely, and if Texas does not soon develop substitutes for incarceration, Dolph Briscoe and TDC could have an Attica on their hands before long. Alternate corrections programs \(e.g., expanded probation, pretrial diversion to 30 The Texas Observer Briscoe believes longer and mandatory sentences would cut the Texas crime rate, but the weight of national evidence is against him. have been used successfully in other states for years, lowering costs to taxpayers and cutting recidivism rates at the same time. In Texas, where such efforts have been poorly funded and badly supervised \(when to truss up TDC’s top-heavy administration and a strained, outdated prison and parole system. Prison wardens and TDC officials stubbornly refuse to modernize their operations, reorganize for greater costeffectiveness, or consider new approaches to rehabilitation. But changes may be coming as the 65th Legislature turns its attention to crime control. Under the governor’s belttightening fiat, legislators are looking closely at TDC balance sheets and wondering why the state is not getting its money’s worth from the prison system. They seem in the mood to consider cheaper ways to rehabilitate offenders. That these new methods may also prove more humane is an added, merely coincidental benefit. Some bills coming out of the Senate may give alternate efforts a chance to prove themselves. Supporters claim they would stabilize Texas’ inmate population at a fraction of the cost of new prison construction. Opposing reformist programs are the supporters of the governor’s “get tough” crime-control proposals \(most notably, harsher, mandatory prison sentences and expanded police powers will cut crime. They also want to build new prisons, which they’ll need if their proposals are adopted. The Texas Civil Liberties Union if approved and implemented, would actually lead to an increase in crime, send more people to prison, and strain the system even further. And studies made by the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Associacrime-control package would fail to do what its title suggests. Texas crime rates differ little from national trends. Traditional indexes used by the F.B.I. and other police agencies measure only reported crime. Studies of victims suggest that only half of all crime is even reported to the police. One in six Texans Results of a recent victim survey made by the Dept. of Public Safety show that one of every six adult Texans was a victim of a crime in 1975. One in six. Threefourths were victims of property crimes ing fourth were victims of violent crime crimes \(drug abuse, gambling, and prostime from the system for their control, were not measured. The TCDLA says only 10 percent of all crime ends up in the courtroom. Many crimes are not investigated at all; few are followed by arrests. Inconclusive investigations, dismissals for lack of evidence, and grand jury “no bills” take their toll. Governor Briscoe has stumped Texas advocating longer and mandatory sen