Wednesday, May 12, 2010

$18 billion budget shortfall means prison closures must be on table

Texas' Legislative Budget Board announced yesterday that the revenue shortfall faced by the state in 2011 will be in the $15-18 billion range, according to the Texas Tribune.

If that's accurate, I don't believe there's a remote chance that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice will be exempted from spending cuts, which means it's time now for legislators to be discussing how to do that safely.

The most important, indeed, the only practical way to reduce prison spending is to change policy, not just cut budgets. The most obvious approaches are expanding on Texas' 2007 probation reforms and ratcheting down sentences for low-level drug-possession, though legislators could also reduce inmate numbers and save money by more aggressively using medical parole or expanding good-time or work credits.

Whatever their approach, there must be policy change to significantly cut costs. Texas courts send more than 72,000 people per year to Texas prisons and inmate numbers won't decline just because of state budget cuts. In practice, cuts must correspond either to reductions in the number of new entries to TDCJ through diversion programming or reducing the length of stay for low-risk inmates, beefing up supervision resources in probation and parole.

The only other option - cutting drug and alcohol treatment, diversion programming and community supervision funds, as TDCJ has suggested - would be penny wise but pound foolish, costing the state more in the near term.

There's not a simple fix available, but there's reason to believe the public prefers cutting prison costs to other possible options. Other states are confronting similar crises, and many have reached the same conclusion: Mass incarceration is a rich nation's hobby, not one we can afford during tight budget times.

See related Grits posts


Anonymous said...

Let TDCJ keep the money made on prison industry and go back to raising their own food and they can be self sufficient.

Jim Stott said...

The reforms to community corrections not only are working to reduce the prison population and thereby drive down the cost of running the criminal justice system. They are also working to change the lives of people and stop them from repeating the same cycle of criminal activity. In many cases it began generations ago. Hopefully, this new generation of offenders will take the lessons learned as a result of these reforms and instill in their children the tools to lead productive lives. The benefits of maintaining good programs reach far beyond what is in front of our eyes. I hope, as probation professionals, we can continue to be effective and maintain the reforms we have worked so hard to achieve.

Anonymous said...

Oatmeal, keep up your chant about closing prisons. Surely mere repetition will make it true.

Anonymous said...

The numbers are far higher than these. all of the 0 dollar laws the put on the books every 2 years. There are a whole lot of fake balances out there that need to be looked at in audit.

Anonymous said...

"Oatmeal, keep up your chant about closing prisons. Surely mere repetition will make it true."

Wow, Rick Perry carries an ANON handle too!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

For the record: Only a carpetbagger would confuse grits for oatmeal. :)

Anonymous said...

DAMN straight the hell with oatmeal give me MORE GRITS.

Anonymous said...

DAMN straight the hell with oatmeal give me more GRITS.