By comparison, Texas prison guards got 3.5% raises this year in an effort to reduce understaffing and the state financed modest increases to diversion and treatment programs to keep from building more prisons. Looking forward, though, by 2011 most official estimates see Texas experiencing severe if delayed effects in the state budget from a slumping economy, meaning legislators will be faced with cutting the budget or dipping into the state's "Rainy Day Fund."
At that point, legislators will be looking for places to cut, and this morning I ran across a brief, two-page report (pdf) on the TDCJ publications page that tells them how to save $49 million per year right off the bat. (It was published in December but I hadn't seen it before now and the Lege didn't act on the information this session.) According to the analysis, performed in response to HB 429 passed in 2007, the:
aging of the offender population has a demonstrated impact on the resources of the health care system. Offenders age 55 and older access the health care delivery system at a much higher level and frequency than younger offenders. Encounter data indicates that offenders aged 55 and over had a documented encounter with medical staff almost three (3) times as often as those under age 55. In terms of hospitalization, the older offenders were utilizing health care resources at a rate of more than four (4) times higher than the younger offenders. The 55 and older offenders comprise about 6.8% of the overall service population and yet account for more than 30.5% of the hospitalizations.TDCJ incarcerated more than 10,950 offenders over the age of 55 as of Aug. 1, 2008, the agency reported; about 5,000 of them are not serving time for so-called "3g" (violent) offenses. (More than 60% of offenders in TDCJ's institutional division are eligible for parole, according to the agency's annual statistical report - pdf, p. 15). Paroling those offenders, said the agency, would save the state more than $20 million annually in off-site medical costs, at a minimum, as well as reduce the burden on internal TDCJ medical systems.
In addition, paroling 5,000 offenders would save money by allowing the state reduce its reliance on private prison contractors:
Based on the most recent LBB offender population projections ... a reduction of 5,000 incarcerated offenders could eliminate the need for contracted temporary capacity, currently 1,899 beds, reducing current agency expenditures by approximately $29 million annually.So when Texas legislators start talking about budget cuts, TDCJ has identified $49 million per year the state could cut from the prison budget that should be discussed well before anyone starts talking about reducing staff pay.