Thursday, October 05, 2006

Senate committee weighs prisons vs. alternatives

More details about possible new prison building in Texas (or new alternatives to incarceration) were revealed in a hearing of the Texas Senate Finance Committee Tuesday.

Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) chief Brad Livingston described to senators the budget crisis facing Texas' prisons. (Watch the hearing here; Livingston's testimony begins at about about the 2:40 mark.) First and foremost, he said, overincarceration threatens to swamp TDCJ. According to the Legislative Budget Board, Texas will need 11,200 beds by 2011, assuming no policy changes - we'll need 7,400 beds before the end of the next biennial budget cycle.

Livingston said he'd prefer not to build more prisons, but TDCJ's budget request proposes building three new facilities based on LBB's projections. The alternative would be to rent "contract beds" from county jails to house the projected 7,400 increase next biennium (the Texas Legislature meets every two years, thus agencies have a 2-year budget cycle). If those projections changed or if policies change to reduce the number of people entering prison, Livingston would prefer to see the trend going "in the other direction."

TDCJ already will require additional emergency appropriations of $60 million - $30 million each for utility overruns and healthcare costs - before the end of the current budget year. That's just for facilities we've got now. They'll need a lot more than that if the prison system continues to expand.

Demands by the Governor that agencies plan for a 10% budget reduction don't affect prisons, but they do apply to probation and parole. Probation would lose $45 million and parole would lose $20 million under those 10% reductions, Livingston said, boosting caseloads and diminishing access to programming for offenders. Drug treatment would lose $7 million, under that scenario - there is already a 6-12 month waiting list for drug treatment beds to open up. Even sex offender treatment would be cut. Livingston also said that utililties, especially gas and electric, would add $83 million to current projections, and those "administrative" costs could not be diminished by 10% if we plan to keep the prisons running.

Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire pointed out that 24,000 people last year went to prison for revoked probation, about half of them for technical violations. Whitmire said that if every probation officer revoked one fewer offender to prison per year it would solve Texas' overincarceration problem.

Another challenge to prison building: Even if you build new prisons we can't staff them. TDCJ remains 3,000 prison guards short, and the gaps are being filled through overtime pay. It's becoming increasingly difficult to hire guards, he said, in the Panhandle, in Huntsville and Palestine - there just aren't enough warm bodies willing to take the jobs for the available pay.

Finance Committee Chairman Steve Ogden was the only member on the dais who seemed interested in more prison building, while Chairman Whitmire stressed repeatedly how the system could be tweaked to avoid new prison construction. Said Ogden:
I appreciate your testimony and options you’ve laid out, and look forward to the discussion. I will just say from the standpoint of someone who’s up for reelection, I’ve never had a constituent approach me and say, “Gee senator we need more people on probation or I wish you would parole more felons. Not a single constituent. They want to be safe and want the criminals off the street. And I’m looking for programs that work. But at least for the people I represent I perceive they are willing to pay in Texas what is necessary to basically fulfill the decisions our judges and juries our making.”
Can that be true? Sen. Ogden's NEVER heard from a constituent who supports probation reform? Really? Readers in his district should fix that! It seems unlikely. I know people from his district who visited his Senate office in Austin last year to support stronger probation. Maybe his staff didn't pass along the message. I'll bet you even prison guards in his district don't think prison building is a good idea - they know we don't staff the prisons we've got.

Perhaps it's true that Sen. Ogden's constituents don't care how much he raises their taxes. My guess, though, is that they'd prefer lower taxes to incarcerating ever-more non-violent offenders.

5 comments:

Poverty Lawyer 1 said...

Cutting treatment programs while at the same time arguing for adding to prisons is just insane. That's right folks, let's just keep thoughtlessly throwing people into prisons (regardless as to whether the prisons can hold them) and turn a blind eye to all the alternatives. Disgusting.

Rusty said...

Without admitting and addressing the BIASED AND BIGOTED LAWS passed for manipulated self serving beliefs and agendas. We are just PROLONGING THE REAL FIX FOR OUR PROBLEMS! While still feeding off our young and old a like, FACT! We are not facing the fact that RIGHTFULLY SO this corrupt system of laws and punishment is being brought down DUE TO IT'S lack of RESPECTING THE CONSTITUTION AND OUR FREEDOMS AND INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS, "" AS FREE AMERICANS ""!!!

While it is a step in the right direction, it will not fix our problems! Until our laws are no longer influenced by the BIGOTS who put their PERSONAL BELIEFS above others RIGHT TO LIVE AS THEY SEE FIT, NOTHING WILL CHANGE!!!

Only when we do an about face, and go back to being a country and state where NOBODY HAS THE RIGHT TO """ FORCE """ THEIR BELIFS OF HOW OTHERS SHOULD LIVE THEIR LIVES WILL JUSTICE BE SERVED!!! WHEN REGARDLESS OF HOW WELL MEANING, INDIVIDUAL FREEDOMS AND RIGHTS "" CAN NOT "" BE ABUSED BY SELF SERVING BIGOTS, PERIOD!!!

The TRUTH IS, MANY, MANY of those WE ALL WANT TO SEE taken out of this NIGHTMARE, SHOULD HAVE “”” NEVER BEEN “”” MANIPULATED IN TO THE BS “” IN THE FIRST PLACE”””!!!

It is just sad that money is the reason for change, instead of respecting the rights and freedoms of others to live AS THEY SEE FIT!!! """ EVEN """ IF IT IS DIFFERENT THAN OTHERS BELIEVE!!!

America is FOR ALL, not just for those of self proclaimed specialness! WHO HAVE HIJACKED OUR LAWS. To manipulate their bigotry and biases AGAINST THE REAL MEANING OF FAITH, for their self serivg agendas!!!

800 pound gorilla said...

I keep posting this but nobody seems to pick it up. We need to discredit the dangerous drugs mythology forever. We need to educate people about the real cause of drug-related problems: personal abuse. The way to treat personal abuse is simple: just say no. Unfortunately, that strategy should never begin and end with "dangerous drugs". Personal abuse is promoted from the highest levels of business and government: preying on insecurities to sell products and policies for profit.

Anonymous said...

How can Senator Ogden say he never received a letter stating reasons to not build new prisons? I sent him several and he never responed to any of them. There are several Senators who think they are far above the rest of us and too good to respond to the lowly people who vote both for them and against them but most of all furnish the funds for them to continue their jobs. They are there to do what is right for us, the citizens of Texas and not to make snide remarks like Senator Ogden makes.

If he wants to build new prisons, let him work in one for a few months and then decide if indeed there are not other alternatives to prison and not everyone who goes into a court is guilty and has to prove they are innocent. The Judges and DAs have usually decided they who they are going to send to prison before any trial begins and this needs to be looked in and taken care of. Remove some of those Judges who think they sit on thrones and can do whatever they wish and no one can do anything about it. There are a lot of them in Harris County who need to be dethroned.

So, Senator Ogden now you have another response to your reply saying no one had told you to not build more prisons and let felons go, work in a prison over a few months time and see how you like it!!!

Anonymous said...

Senator Ogden is typical of the morons that the Texas electorate votes for. He says none of his constituents ever told him to release violent criminals? So what he is really telling the world is that not a single voter in his district had the brainpower to say "Let's release the people who are NO LONGER a danger to the public"--such as the invalids now being warehoused at the Sky View and Boyd units, among others. So, Senator Ogden, you are telling us that your constituents, the ones who put their faith in you and elected you, don't have the sophistication of, say, a bunch of sixth graders? That says volumes about you, the people that elected you, and, most unfortunately, the average Texan, come to think of it.