Over the next several days, Texas Prison Bid'ness will be highlighting the top 5 private prison stories of 2011, and looking forward to the new year. The 2011 Texas legislature's attempt to increase privatization of state jails and prisons is our #5 story of the year.
Texas lawmakers met in 2011 and considered legislation that had major implications for private prisons in the state. According to the Texas Tribune, one such measure could have privatized all of Texas' state jails for low-level felony offenders. While ulitmately rescinded, the proposal was representative of bad policies that may be seen again in Texas in the future.
Nationwide there has been some success in moving state law makers to reconsider policies that have contributed to mass incarceration. This year, conservative stakeholders led by the Texas-based Right on Crime coalition, cemented a foundation of support among lawmakers in Texas and around the country to support criminal justice reforms.
But as that foundation was laid, a space was also created that strengthened opportunities for prison privatization. In Texas, lawmakers that supported privatization continue claims that private companies can manage state services better, despite evidence to the contrary. One lawmaker filed an amendment to the House budget bill (page 272) earlier this year that sought private bids for the operation of all state jails. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice would have been required to turn over jail operations to private if the result is at least 10 percent savings to the state, regardless of long-term savings or operations outcomes.
We reported earlier this year that while recent policy reforms have stabilized the prison population, lawmakers have also increased private contract capacity. The relationship between reform and privatization is something that lawmakers and advocates should pay close attention to and was definately a top story of 2011.