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:
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.
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.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.
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.