There is one fact that may impact prison capacity over the coming years – like other states -- Texas is dealing with serious budget problems. The Governor has issued his typical mandate -- asking state agencies to find ways to reduce their budgets by five-percent. Additionally, legislative leaders in the state House and the Senate have suggested that closing prisons is definitely on the table as they work to manage the state’s correction budget.
"Closing prisons? It's absolutely on the table," said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jim McReynolds of Lufkin. "As tight as our budget situation looks, we cannot unravel the fledgling system of diversion and treatment programs that are paying big dividends now for the states. And there's only one other place to look prison operations."
The state's pending budget shortfall in 2011 may result in the closure of the privately run units. Senator John Whitmire, who chairs the Criminal Justice Committee, has specifically mentioned the Mineral Wells lockup which is managed by the Corrections Corporation of America.
In recent weeks, Whitmire has publicly suggested that the state consider closing the privately run, 2,100-bed Mineral Wells Unit and perhaps aging prisons that are much more expensive to operate and maintain than newer ones.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice submitted their plan for reducing the agency’s annual budget to the Governor. The plan does not call for the closing of prison units – private or otherwise. Rather the focus on cutting costs targets eliminating job positions and reallocating the community supervision funding that was appropriated in 2007 and has contributed to the flat prison population that makes closing prisons a possibility.
However, according to an analysis by The Statesman, some $10.7 million in funding for 817 beds in privately run prisons would be eliminated, reducing the state’s prison capacity.
Advocates that promote alternatives to incarceration are asking agency officials and state policymakers to close prisons rather than reduce community corrections funding.
Looks like this may shape up to be quite a battle in the 2011 legislature. Time will tell if there is political viability that will lead in the actual closing of state prison units. We will keep y’all posted as talks develop.