Correcting the record on Texas crime rates

Criticism of justice reform efforts in Texas are the latest slings and arrows from those who do not wish to see FIRST STEP Act become law. The opponents appear to believe Texas’ ability to close prisons has everything to do with ignoring statistics and nothing to do with reforms bringing around record low crime rates.

“[T]he numbers they use to calculate recidivism in Texas in order to achieve a lower number only include re-incarcerations, not re-arrests,” quibbles Daniel Horowitz at Conservative Review while adjusting his South Park Goth Kids-lensed glasses. “As we all painfully know, so many arrests never lead to incarceration, particularly in states that are trying to avoid incarceration at all costs. The federal system, on the other hand, measures recidivism by re-arrests. Apples to apples, comparing federal re-arrests to Texas re-arrests, the recidivism rate in Texas is 46.5 percent, 12.5 percent higher than the federal rate, according to the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys who are opposing this bill.”

Here’s the problem with Horowitz and NAAUSA’s calculations on re-arrests: it assumes every single person taken into custody is guilty unless proven innocent. This flies in the face of the 6th Amendment by cementing the idea all those questioned by law enforcement are criminals who deserve to spend time in prison or lose their property. Just ask former Albanian national police officer Rustem Kazazi – a U.S. citizen – who is currently suing the federal government on claims U.S. Customs and Border Protection took his life savings at the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport as he planned to travel to Albania to fix up a summer vacation home without charging him with a crime.

You could also ask Anthony Graves who spent 12 years on Texas death row for a 1994 murder he didn’t commit due to prosecutorial misconduct. A federal appeals court ruled former Burleson County District Attorney Charles Sebesta withheld evidence and got a false witness to testify at trial. The Texas State Bar eventually revoked Sebesta’s law license in 2016.

Now, we are not talking about people who have been wronged by the system but ex-offenders released after serving their time in prison. However, it is important to note the law is not infallible for the simple reason those prosecuting and investigating crimes are people and can make mistakes. This is a problem which opponents of justice reform fail to realize. It doesn’t mean police don’t deserve support but just a reminder no one is perfect.

Horowitz isn’t finished in his farcical claim justice reform in Texas doesn’t work.

“Common sense and learned human experiences never fail to deliver the truth,” He lectured reformers in CR earlier this week with almost gleeful disdain.“Last Wednesday, the DOJ released an updated study from the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) showing that 83 percent of prisoners released by states under jailbreak programs similar to what the bipartisan cabal is promoting in Washington were re-arrested within nine years of their release. So much for the recidivism argument for early release programs. Unfortunately, the House was in such a rush to pass this bill even without a CBO score that the DOJ report didn’t come out until a day later.”

Here’s where Horowitz omits – whether willingly or unwillingly only he can answer – a key factor in the BJS study. The survey looked at prisoners released in 2005. Texas didn’t start their justice reforms until 2007 a full two years after the monitored offenders re-entered society. It completely wipes away the argument justice reform doesn’t work because there were no real reform programs in place! It would be different if BJS did a study of Texas prisoners released after the 2007 legislative session, but this isn’t the case. Horowitz’ argument has no traction.

The real stats people should be looking at are crime rates. The Texas Department of Public Safety released its analysis of 2016 crime in February. The data showed crime is steadily declining in The Lone Star State over the last 17 years. The 1999 crime rate was 5,035.2 crimes per 100K persons based on a population of 20.56M. The 2016 crime rate was 3,185.2 crimes per 100K persons based on a 27.86M population. It means the overall crime rate is dropping exponentially even though millions more now live in Texas. The correlation between Texas’ decision to enact justice reform – reform championed by Governors Rick Perry and Greg Abbott – cannot be ignored.

Horowitz’ supposed notion Texas political and law enforcement leaders are quaking in their Luccheses so much over re-arrest rates is as foolish as it is ludicrous. The Texas model for justice reform is working regardless if you want to count re-arrests, re-incarcerations, or how many people were caught with their hands in Momma’s cookie jar. It’s a model for the federal system even if FIRST STEP Act doesn’t go as far as Texas’ reforms. It’s just a misnomer to suggest they’re failing.