Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Texas should avoid "staggering expense" of three new prisons

Like me, the Waco Herald Tribune editorial board thinks the Texas Legislature sent a mixed message by approving three new prisons in addition to new diverstion programs ("Texas lawmakers send mixed messages on penal reform," June 13):

Bill authors Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, and Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, argued that the reforms in the pending legislation would obviate the need for additional prisons.

They would do so by moving low-level offenders into supervised community programs and by bolstering substance-abuse programs to free up beds now filled by minor drug and alcohol offenders.

Nevertheless, lawmakers went ahead and authorized three new prisons, but only if the Legislative Budget Board deems them necessary. A projection is that operating three additional prisons will cost the state $2.151 billion over 20 years.

The state really needs to get serious about prison diversion and spare itself such staggering expenses.

The cost of incarcerating a person is $44 a day. The cost of probation is $2.13 a day. Texas doesn’t want dangerous people on the streets. But it doesn’t want to be spending $44 a day on a person who could be paying his or her debt to society in other ways.

Let the 80th Legislature be a turning point in reversing a disastrous and costly policy that has resulted in one in 20 Texans languishing in the criminal justice system.

Good stuff, and it's good to see the MSM acknowledging the economic reality: Paying for new diversion programs is a drop in the bucket compared to new prison spending. As I wrote recently:
Much has been made of the approximately $200 million in new community supervision and diversion funding, but the really big increase in TDCJ's new budget comes in the "institutional division," i.e., at the prisons themselves.

Texas prisons will cost taxpayers $375 million more in the next biennium than the last - a 9.4% increase in General Revenue funds over the last budget just to cover the baseline before we construct any new prison units.
The Legislative Budget Board will still have an opportunity next year to reject or delay new prison spending. With a $2.151 billion price tag over 20 years and experts telling them they're not needed, that'd be a fiscally wise move that would turn the Legislature's mixed message into a positive one.


JT Barrie said...

Surprising for the Tribune Herald. They had no problems with tossing big hunks of change on the military spending binges of the Reagan 80s. Since when have they considered taxpayers money as theirs.

Anonymous said...

Well, let's look at this information. The cost for supervision under the probation system is ONLY $2.13 per day! And the cost for prison is $44 per day. Soundds like someone is going to make a bunch of money building three prisons. Anybody want to take a guess on what Legislators/counties will benefit from that bureaucratic boondoggle!
All the while the probation system is in chaos and the agency overlooking the CSCD's is run by a group who selfishly look out for themselves instead of fixing the problems within the system, ie., LOW PAY, HIGH TURNOVER and LOW MORALE. When will the LEGE get involved and rid the state of the antiquated probation system in this state?

Anonymous said...

Grits-does one of these new prisons include the one facility that TDCJ is supposed to build for TYC in swap for Marlin and John Shero facility they are getting back Sept. 1, 2007?