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More Prison Beds on the Way

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Lawmakers are spending hundreds of millions for more prison beds following a complicated debate regarding different types of prison beds and where these additional prison beds will go. Legislators authorized the addition of more than 8,500 beds to the Texas prison system (see chart below). It's not clear yet how many of these will be operated by private prison companies.

Throughout the 80th legislative session a bi-partisan effort headed by state Senator John Whitmire (D-Houston) and state Representative Jerry Madden (R-Richardson) debated changes in Texas incarceration policy. The Whitmire/Madden plan always included prison expansion but legislators framed their rhetoric in terms of expanding treatment capacity by increasing beds in treatment prisons. The conversation will continue through the next biennium and has some lawmakers trying to find alternatives.

Those familiar with Texas corrections know that 30 years of Ruiz litigation has led to a complicated terminology in Texas where prisons aren't necessarily called prisons, but "Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facilities" and "Intermediate Sanction Facilities." People incarcerated in these lock-up facilities are technically still probationers and parolees who have not been revoked to prison.

However, make no mistake that these lock-ups are indeed prisons because the individuals detained in them lose their liberty and freedom for many months at a time.

The bed numbers provided in this post is based on the information we have available. Prison expansion continues to be a moving target. For example, while the budget authorizes general revenue funding for new prison construction of nearly 4,000 beds-- correctional officials must get approval from the Legislative Budget Board before the building begins. We also don't have reliable information yet about how many of these beds will be operated by private prison companies for profit.

Overview of New Texas Prison Beds
Authorized by 2007 Texas Legislature

Type of Prison Bed

Number of Beds

Probation Intermediate Sanction Facilities700
Substance Abuse Felony Punishment Facilities1,500
Parole Intermediate Sanction Beds 700
DWI Treatment Beds500
Transfer of Juvenile Facilities to Adult Prison System1,200
Construction of 3 prison units3,990