The Austin Chronicle discusses the origins of Texas' Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facilities (SAFPF) in it's latest edition. The article provides an interesting overview of Texas' treatment prisons which is particularly important given the current focus on prison alternatives. Despite, the current dialogue around diversion, Texas still expanded prison capacity in recent years through SAFPF and other in prison treatment programs.
According to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ), SAFPF are an intensive six-month therapeutic community program (nine-month program for offenders with special needs) for offenders who are sentenced by a judge as a condition of community supervision or as a modification of parole/community supervision.
The Senate Criminal Justice committee will meet this fall to discuss the legislative appropriations to in prison treatment programs administered in SAFPF lock ups. During 2007 the Legislature appropriated $234 million to TDCJ as a part of a prison expansion initiative. The state proposes to increase SAFPF funding by $63.1 million during 2008-09. Vendors like the Chicago based Gateway Foundation manage lucrative contracts with TDCJ to run SAFPF programs.
Currently, TDCJ contracts with Gateway to run the Ellen Halbert Unit in Burnet County. As with many private prison contracts there are reports of mismanagement and abuse at the Halbert Unit. As a result the Senate Criminal Justice committee will to discuss the lockups and the monies allocated to them. The Chronicle states that SAFPF prisoners collected testimonies to disclose their experiences in the correctional facilities. According to the testimonies of former prisoners:
the SAFPF program – in theory a substance-abuse treatment alternative to hard prison time – instead relies heavily on dubious forms of psychological and physical abuse. Several inmates describe a group punishment known as "tighthouse," during which inmates are forced to sit upright in plastic chairs, unmoving and silent, for as long as 16 hours a day and for weeks to months on end – a "mind-crushing" form of cruelty that has resulted in mental breakdowns and suicide attempts.
The September hearing should provide an interesting overview of the current state of SAFPF lock ups and other in prison treatment programs. We'll be sure to keep you posted!