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80th Legislative Session: Mixed Results on Private Prisons

Well folks, the 80th Texas Legislative Session ended this week. This year, overall private prison capacity grew by more than 1,000 beds and lawmakers provided additional funding for more privately-managed treatment prisons. But, it could have been worse.

As previously mentioned on this blog, Jerry Madden, Chairman of House Corrections, passed HB 198 through both houses. This legislation authorizes additional private prison capacity with 1,000 more beds and increases the limit on the size of private prisons. Despite efforts by the ACLU, Texas Civil Rights Project, and AFSCME, the legislation passed through. The bill originally called for an expansion allowing 1,500-bed private prisons, but before it passed out of the House, Rep. Lois Kolkhorst amended that down to 1,150 beds per private prison. However, the overall statewide cap has increased by 1,000 new beds.

But those numbers are deceptive. HB 198 only pertains to state prison beds in the Institutional Division that are capped by law. As many of you watching Texas corrections may know, prison officials have adopted a complicated terminology that hides how large the Texas prison population actually is.

For example, Texas also has lock-up facilities known as "state jails," "substance abuse felony punishment facilities" (SAFPs), and "intermediate sanction facilities." Some of these lock-ups are publicly run, while others are managed by private companies. According to the latest numbers provided by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, more than 17,500 prisoners are currently incarcerated in private facilities in Texas.

Reports on how the Texas prison system is expanding remain unclear as experts examine the state budget to figure out exactly how many prison beds are coming online and how many are public and private. What is clear is that the budget that was recently approved authorizes the second largest expansion of the state prison system since the 1990s. Although the numbers could've been worse, this is not good news for Texas. 

We'll have more analysis of the legislative session over the next two weeks.