Thursday, February 11, 2010

MSM acknowledges possible TX prison closures

It's not news at this point to Grits readers that state officials are considering prison closures in the face of looming budget shortfalls predicted for next year in order to protect recent diversion programs from being scrapped, but this morning the possibility was broached in the MSM by Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman, who reports ("State officials consider closing some prisons," Feb. 11):

More than a decade after expanding Texas' prison system into one of the largest in the world and growing its law-and-order reputation accordingly some state leaders are now openly discussing the possibility of what was once politically unthinkable: closing or mothballing entire prisons. ...

It's unclear whether Texas has ever closed an entire prison, though parts of two were mothballed — or temporarily closed — several years ago due to a guard shortage.

By contrast, at least 35 correctional centers in other states have been closed since the recession began in 2008 and state and county government budgets began sliding into red ink.

"Closing prisons? It's absolutely on the table," said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jim McReynolds, D-Lufkin, whose panel oversees the state-run system of lockups. "As tight as our budget situation looks, we cannot unravel the fledgling system of diversion and treatment programs that are paying big dividends now for the states. And there's only one other place to look — prison operations."

But no one is discussing freeing convicts or shuttering prisons just to save money, as other states facing budgetary red ink have done recently.

"We certainly can't compromise public safety, and I'm opposed to closing prisons just to save a buck," said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston, who was present for the prison-building binge of the 1990s.

"Closing prisons ought to be a result of having excess capacity that results from having diversion and treatment programs that are successful, to build new efficiencies into a system to make it work better, to be smarter about how we approach criminal justice," Whitmire said.

Some units could be closed without releasing any prisoners at all, says Ward, since Texas' system now has some 2,300 beds worth of excess capacity, a number which has been slowly but steadily rising. And unit closures at TYC are a virtual certainty:

Whitmire and McReynolds said the number of imprisoned adult Texans has been trending down for some time, and the system now has about 2,300 vacant beds. Texas' youth prison system, which five years ago housed almost 5,000 offenders, now holds less than 1,700, officials said.

Two Texas Youth Commission lockups — the West Texas State School in remote Pyote and Victory Field Correctional Academy in Vernon — are due to be closed later this year, after a third youth lockup in San Saba was shuttered and converted into an adult prison two years ago.

"If we see that this vacancy rate in the adult system is sustainable in coming years, it would only make sense to look at the most inefficient prisons, the ones that have the most constant security and operations problems," Whitmire said. "Nobody could have even thought about saying that 15 years ago."

Importantly, on Monday state agencies must submit to the Governor and legislative leaders a plan to cut 5% from corrections budgets. TDCJ, TYC and the Juvenile Probation Commission will all be generating plans, so we'll have more information on the subject next week.

UPDATE: See "Prisons chief: No prison closures in budget cut plan," in which the Statesman's Mike Ward reports:

Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said a document to be submitted Monday to state leaders outlining a 5-percent cut in the agency’s nearly $3 billion, two-year budget “will not specifically propose closing any units.”

“Not,” he added emphatically. ...

Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, who earlier advocated closing prisons to improve the effeciency of a system with thousands of empty beds, but not just to save money, said Livingston is right.

“It’s premature now to be calling to close units, while we’re still seeing the full impact of all the diversion and treatment programs we started putting into operation in 2007,” Whitmire said.

“But come January 2011, if we’re still seeing a downturn in prison population, then we should be looking at closing some of the old, inefficient, poorly designed units as long as it doesn’t compromise public safety.

“Strategically, that could be really smart.”

See related Grits posts:

9 comments:

ckikerintulia said...

See AGN article this morning. (AP, so it probably appears in other papers.) A sidebar lists max. populations of area prisons: Clements, Amarillo 3714; Neal Amarillo 1690; Dalhart 1040; Jordan Pampa 1008; Tulia 606; Baten Pampa 440.

Not surprisingly area legislators promise to fight any closures in this area.

Veleta G said...

re:
"It's unclear whether Texas has ever closed an entire prison, though parts of two were mothballed — or temporarily closed — several years ago due to a guard shortage."

and a few paragraphs later this:

"Some units could be closed without releasing any prisoners at all, says Ward, since Texas' system now has some 2,300 beds worth of excess capacity, a number which has been slowly but steadily rising. And unit closures at TYC are a virtual certainty:Whitmire and McReynolds said the number of imprisoned adult Texans has been trending down for some time, and the system now has about 2,300 vacant beds. Texas' youth prison system, which five years ago housed almost 5,000 offenders, now holds less than 1,700, officials said."

I work at 1 of those 2 units mentioned here. Funny that in October '09 our unit was made to re-open that mothballed 300 bed bldg which has since made us shorthanded again just about the time we were running at full staff (on paper that is) but much better than the past couple of yrs. What a friggin contradiction this is! If there are that many empty beds in the state why in the hell do they want 300 measly more beds being used at a unit that typically runs short when they are saying they have such a surplus of beds? It makes absolutely no sense!

Veleta G said...

re ckikerintulia post: I believe those numbers, at least some of them, in that AP article to be incorrect since I know that Dalhart Unit's max pop since re-opening the dorm bldg is approx 1300. 1040 was the number when that bldg was shut down for more than a year. A lot of other staff, including myself, wish they had never re-opened that bldg.

ckikerintulia said...

Veleta G, the prison max. population statistics were not part of the AP story, but were in a sidebar provided by Amarillo Globe News, not always the most reliable source of information.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

BTW, Veleta, my family on both sides are from Dalhart. My great-grandfather worked on the XIT Ranch and my grandfather, W.D. Henson, was county judge there for nearly 30 years.

TDCJEX said...

Veleta G Those numbers are probably the numbers given by TDCJ, from a yearly census or what ever will look best in some officials view . We may have been on the opposite side of the razor wire but how often has TDCJ done things that made sense?

I can think of plenty of things they did that would have both bosses and prisoners wondering WTF are they thinking .

The point CK is trying to make is that it will be very difficult to shut down any prison unit with out some lawmaker putting up a fight . Would the legislators from anywhere near Huntsville home to TDCJ and 10 units if you count Polunsky and a few others just outside of Huntsville .Any one from Coryell county going to let TDCJ shut down say Hilltop , Crain or Mountainview? What about Beaumont another huge prison town both state and federal prison there any one want to shut down units in Beaumont ? Any one want to shut down the Jester units once called Harlem . How about the Tennessee Colony units any one want to shut some of them down ? Who is going to let their prison be shut down ? Eventually some will have to be . TDCJ is unsustainable as it is .

What about all the federal money prison towns and counties get for having a large indigent population because prisoners are counted as residents of that county and are indigent so the prison countys get lots of federal handouts . Who wants to give up their handout ?

It does not take much to figure out that TDCJ is the main employer in Huntsville and Gatesville and they want as many prisons and prisoners as possible . Then there is the moral problem of incarcerating thousands people for excessive amounts of time, primarily as it appears to to serve as a means of employment and political support . Then that is part of why there are over 2,300 felonies in TX alone never mind the federal felonies. Get rid of the War on Drugs and watch the crime rate drop oh that means less prison and prisoners any connection there ?

You are right that their closing down and reopening a few of the dorms because on paper there is now enough staff is ridiculous . That on paper does not take into account sick days vacation ,emergencies , on that unit and others.


The problem Ck was alluding to is that TDCJ is a special interest group . It is the largest employer in TX . Why else does TX parole some one who is most likely to re offend (those would be mostly convicted of drug crimes ) and keep the trusty ( interestingly mostly in for violent offenses) who do most of the non security and medical labor

A easy first step is for BPP to parole those eligible and lift most of the set off s they love to handout . so TDCJ can close a few units . The number of parole eligible TDCJ prisoners is close to 86,000 ! That certainly is a few units . BPP and Goodhairs other cronies must think those trusties past and present who get set off after set off have not figured it out. They are there because A ) someone needs a job b they are easier to deal with TDCJ needs them to run the units with their free labor . They know that they committed a crime and have to pay the consequences .But they also know when the punishment is not fitting the “crime “ . Maybe prison is not the best way to deal with all crime either . But that is not currently politically feasible . The rare other ways to both punish and also compensate people . Prison does not compensate people .

Once people see that the world as we know it has not ended they can talk about re-sentencing and early releases to bring TDCJ to a manageable size

Anonymous said...

Yes, what they are facing in Caliphonya is a "perfect storm". The squirrels in Sacramento have been allowed free range and have been allowed to bankrupt the state.

On second thought, since a squirrel is a symbol of frugality, I apologize for insulting our furry friends by comparing them to Caliphonya politicians.

Since they have allowed a bloodthirsty gang culture to thrive they will reap the results when they open the doors and turn them loose on the public. So many of them are so high they will not understand what's going on until they face a home invasion first hand.

Boyness said...

BRAD LIVINGSTON> “will not specifically propose closing any units.”

I stand by what I have said all along. Texas will NOT close any prisons.

Texas can NEVER admit it has been wrong about the creation of the prison-industrial complex which has been a failure.

Closing prisons is NOT an option for the "law and order" politicians like Governor Wig aho could NEVER appear soft on crime.

I would LOVE to see Texas close some of these hell-holes. Start with that nasty ass Walls Unit in Huntsville (only in Texas would a prison be historical) and shut down some of these remote pole barns that they cannot staff because they are in the middle of NOWHERE!

Anonymous said...

Boyness: "I stand by what I have said all along. Texas will NOT close any prisons."

No, there's Central Unit. Sugar Land wants it closed, and TDCJ will likely be happy to make that happen.

"only in Texas would a prison be historical" - No, Angola Prison in Louisiana is historical and in operation. Folsom, San Quentin, and Alcatraz (federal) are historical too. The two state ones I mentioned are still in operation.

TDCJEX: "The point CK is trying to make is that it will be very difficult to shut down any prison unit with out some lawmaker putting up a fight ."

In some places there are lawmakers who want prisons closed. I.E. Central Unit in Sugar Land.

While AFAIK this isn't the case right now, in regards to "Any one want to shut down the Jester units once called Harlem ." - Being in the middle of Fort Bend County, which is rapidly suburbanizing, they will be surrounded by suburban development, and they may get chopped too.