It's been perhaps a century since the state shuttered its last lockup. But in a growing state where prisons get built, not closed, officialdom is now at least entertaining the idea of closing the Central Unit, thanks to a nudge from the City of Sugar Land, which wants to expand its regional airport.
The seeds of change are contained in a few phrases on Page 30 of a complicated 73-page bill that continues operations of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. The so-called criminal justice sunset bill is awaiting Gov. Rick Perry's signature.
The bill calls for a feasibility study of closing the Sugar Land prison and moving its operations "to a location that more appropriately addresses the needs of the correctional system."
Central is one of five prisons within a 5-square-mile area, part of what was once two plantations totaling 7,800 acres that the state purchased beginning in the 1880s. That was about the time the prison system ended the highly controversial practice of letting private companies rent its convicts for indentured labor to replace slaves after the Civil War and began using them as field hands itself.
In time, officials reasoned, the prison system could be made to pay its own way with the profits from the plantation farms.
By 1921, Texas' prison plantations encompassed more than 81,000 acres across the eastern third of Texas, much of it within 30 miles of Sugar Land. Of the nearly 38,000 acres once tended by convicts in the Sugar Land area, records show, fewer than 1,300 acres remain in prison hands.
Central has just 326 acres left.
"That property is like the center of a doughnut — prime property now because it has been surrounded by development," said Hal Croft, acting deputy director of asset management for the General Land Office, which oversees the sale of state property.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Prison plantation may be first Texas unit to close in 100 years
Here's a notable development, from the Austin Statesman ("Seeds of change planted at prison farm," June 5):