News from around the state of Texas

Prison Crime Holds Steady as Population Declines

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Crime in Texas' prison system is rampant, with authorities filing 3,000 charges against prisoners since 2009 and nearly 600 more against corrections officers, state figures show.

    Inmates have been accused of committing a variety of crimes while incarcerated, and the rate reached a peak in 2012 when more than 680 charges were filed. Meanwhile, 93 officers faced criminal charges last year, down from a high of 154 in 2009.

    The figures show crime rates in prison holding steady despite a drop in the number of prisoners, according to the Houston Chronicle, which obtained the numbers under the Texas Public Information Act. About 151,000 inmates are in the 109 state prisons. The number of prisoners is down by about 9,000 from a decade ago.

    Authorities attribute the rates to a more hardened population of felons who are being held amid growing turnover by corrections officers.

    "As it gets hotter through the summer, we'll have more assaults -- offenders on staff, offenders on offenders, all kinds," Bruce Toney, inspector general for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, told the Chronicle. "Our busy months are just now starting."

    Other factors contribute to the persistent level of prison crime, officials say, including convicts who have a mental illness, gang members locked up with few programs to keep them busy and tough-on-crime laws that result in violent convicts serving longer sentences.

    "I see and hear about a lot more uses of force at units, and I blame that on two things: less experienced officers and an increase in mental health issues in the inmate population," said Lance Lowry, a veteran sergeant at the James H. Byrd Unit in Huntsville who's also president of a union that represents several thousand corrections employees.