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.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.
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.”
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.
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.