Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Perry Pushes Prisons in State of the State

The Houston Chronicle's Clay Robison reports that Gov. Rick Perry will call for new prison building today in his State of the State address. No word on where he thinks Texas will find the guards to run them - inmates are staffing some of the prisons we've got now.

Legislative leaders have proposed ways to avoid building new prisons, but apparently the Governor isn't interested. According to the Chronicle, Perry will suggest investing just 10% of the amount on treatment proposed recently by Rep. Jerry Madden and Sen. John Whitmire.

Here's perhaps the biggest irony: There likely would be no overcrowding problem at all if it weren't for Perry's 2005 vetoes. What's more, the latest research indicates that, at Texas' current incarceration rates, more prisons could actually increase crime.

Earlier estimates found that new prisons would cost taxpayers between $50-75 million per year in debt service for the next 20 years, and another $75 million annually in operating costs, ad infinitum. That's a lot of scratch. Can you think of anything else you'd rather Texas spend the money on?

UPDATE FROM THE SPEECH: More prisons didn't make it into the speech, apparently, and the Houston Chronicle has changed the online story predicting such to say the governor released a budget calling for two new prisons and converting juvie units to adult lockups. I haven't seen the budget yet, but it wasn't in the speech.

Governor Perry made a big deal how the state needed to do more for children of incarcerated parents, and I couldn't agree more. But all he proposed was to continue giving recently allocated federal grant funds to Big Brothers/Big Sisters' Amachi-Texas program. Given the statistic he cited that 70% of children with incarcerated parents in Texas will follow their parents one day into prison, that's a pretty penny ante response to such a large public safety problem. Could that really be the only intervention the Governor could think of to help these kids? Let's hope the Lege has more ideas than that.

Later, the governor said he supports harsher penalties for sex offenders, but that we "cannot ignore" thousands of nonviolent offenders and should focus spending on treatment so they don't return to prison. It was an applause line, but as they panned the crowd I only saw Sylvester Turner stand up for it. That sounds good, but it doesn't really jibe with the Chronicle's report that Perry's budget proposed 10% of the amount advocated by Chairmans Whitmire and Madden. I guess we'll soon see. On criminal justice, though, I'm left with more questions than answers from Gov. Perry's State of the State.

NUTHER UPDATE: Here's the text of the speech. MORE: The SA Express News, which shares a capitol bureau with the Houston Chronicle, still has the original article posted predicting more prisons would be in there. One wonders, if it was there when the article was written, why was prison building removed from today's speech at the last minute? I'd have liked to have been a fly on the wall when they had that conversation.

AND MORE: Mike Ward also predicted on the Statesman's legislative blog, that "Gov. Rick Perry will propose adding 1,600 prison beds to Texas’ already huge system. But," he added, "no new prisons could be the result."

Huh? Perhaps Perry was for new prisons, before he was against them? Wrote Ward:
Perry’s proposal calls for 1,000 additional medium-security beds and 600 more from the conversion of a Texas Youth Commission lockup to hold adults. The 1,000 beds could be for DWI offenders, perhaps using existing facilities that are now holding maximum-security felons, Perry aides say.

The 600 youth commission beds, of course, are already built.

That’s basically the same plan that Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, and House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, already have proposed as part of their prison reform plan.

Explains Perry’s press secertary Robert Black: “The 1,000 could be for DWIs, yes, or other programs. It doesn’t necessarily mean two brand new prisons.”

Whether Black changed his tune or Robison got it wrong, I think this means the Governor, for now at least, has come down on the side of Chairmans Whitmire and Madden and against Lt. Gov. Dewhurst on the question of more prison building.

But that still leaves the Governor's budget, which doesn't seem to jibe with Black's most recent comments. A capitol source forwards me this short analysis of the Governor's criminal justice budget request, which has not yet been made public. He's asking for:
  • $14 million for additional rehabilitation and parole placement options for more than 5,000 prisoners (That amount seems underbudgeted for 5,000 prisoners).
  • Authorization for TDCJ to use $125.8 million of existing bond authority to contract with a vendor for the design and construction of two 1,000 bed medium-security facilities (and renovate TYC facilities to accommodate 600 offenders).
  • $97.3 million for Contracted capacity, an increase of $34.4 million compared to the 2006-2007 level.
So by those figures, Perry appears much less committed to treatment options than his State of the State made it sound. Indeed, the budget proposal relies heavily on leased prison space, spending $100 million on contract beds from counties and private prisons over the next biennium.

I'm not sure where all this leaves us, because the Legislature makes the budget, not the Governor, in any event. The next move belongs to Chairmans Whitmire and Madden, and to House and Senate budget writers.

FINAL UPDATE: Here's more on Gov. Perry's proposed budget.


Anonymous said...


Gritsforbreakfast said...

Sorry if it's unclear - I'm afraid that's in part because I don't understand what it all means. That's why I'm compiling the different statements about Perry's position, hoping a close parsing will reveal more than the surface-level rhetoric.

As for what made him change to Madden's side, I'm not sure it was a change. It's possible he just hadn't decided which way to go, and perhaps now has simply chosen.

The truth is the pragmatic and budget arguments for Madden/Whitmire's approach are almost overwhelming. There's not a single valid argument I've heard that prison building would help anything, or that it's even feasible because of guard shortages. This could be an acquiescence to that stubborn reality. OTOH, last session Perry said he supported stronger probation and more treatment funds, then vetoed them, so pronouncements this early in the game still must be taken with a grain of salt. best,

800 pound gorilla said...

It's all about the money. They could solve the guard shortage problem easily with much higher salaries and benefits. What I find annoying is that there are no tax increases or spending cuts elsewhere to bankroll these new prisons. Does Perry think money for prisons grows on trees? Or does a standing ovation from state Republicans really a response to "Clap if you believe in prison spending fairies".

The more that people have to endure spending cuts in good programs or tax increases to bankroll the mass incarceration scams that follow the drug war scam - the sooner we can end these scams and start looking for honest solutions to our criminal justice problems.

The first goal of any crime victims' advocacy group should be to produce fewer crime victims by ending drug prohibition. But when legisliars treat taxpayers like a bottomless pit of money that solution isn't quite so obvious.

Anonymous said...

The Governor is listening to Madden and Whitmire. They are making some very good points. But he will cave in to the Good Ol Boys who have a few extra beds in their facilities for "wink-wink" a good price! As a probation officer, I can tell you that treatment better be an option or you'd better start building a lot more prisons! However, you can't beg them into submission for treatment. If they don't want it, take them off the streets and lock them up. But, give them the option.
By the way, Probation officers get it in the shorts two ways: their not state or county employees AND they're grossly underpaid as are the prison guards.

Anonymous said...

Bexar County probation officers get it three ways! You must have missed the "HAPPY MERRY RE-APPLY" in December posts.

Anonymous said...

Please help TDCJ employees get a payraise! Sign the petition! Thanks for everyones help!

At the unit I work on we are very short staff and it gets even more dangerous everyday. Also, I don't recall offenders taking place of any staff on my unit either. We work our butts off covering the positions that we do not have staff for.


Catonya said...

I have to wonder if Perry's even glanced at his "job description"? So many clear solutions staring him in the face, yet he sits idly on the fence watching the seams bust.

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