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Another Private Prison Escape, But the Big Holes are in the Texas Parole System, Not the Fence

The Austin Statesman has reported a second escape from a Texas private prison in a two-week span. What do these escapes have in common? Apart from the fact that both escapes involve minimum-security private prisons, they are also both private prisons that are part of the broken yet highly lucrative Texas parole system.

On May 14th, it was 2 people escaping from CCA's Mineral Wells "pre-parole" prison described by one prisoner as "the abyss." This post by Grits for Breakfast is a great summary of one big problem with the Texas pre-parole system. The men who escaped briefly from Mineral Wells may have served most of their time, but that doesn't mean they were close to release. The Texas pre-parole system can keep them locked up past their "earned time" date, which undermines people's faith in the system and can mean that the resources they've lined up to support a successful transition just sit on hold.

A pre-parole system that holds people in prison too long doesn't make public safety sense or financial sense, but it creates an artificial need for a bigger prison system: a profitable problem for companies like Corrections Corporation of America to offer to solve.

Another pressure on the prison system happens when we send people back to prison for minor parole infractions. Grits for Breakfast has an excellent recent post on this issue as well, citing legislation to reduce the number of people returning to prison for minor technical violations. That legislation didn't pass, but it would've reined in the number of people being locked up for technical parole violations, which is now in the thousands. A prison system that grabs people for technical parole violations and locks them back up quickly has a questionable impact on public safety, but a clear impact on companies whose business it is to rent prison beds to the crowded Texas prison system.

Changes to the parole and pre-parole system will fix big holes that are leaking millions of public dollars every year. That's money that could be better spent on community settings that get people back on their own, prepared to live crime-free lives. But for now, we'll have to settle for these private prison companies fixing the holes in their fences.

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