We're not so enthusiastic about additional plans to cut 555 non-guard positions in the state prison system.
Many of those employees are charged with making sure that prisoners don't come back once they are released.
For example, 155 jobs would be cut from Project RIO, which stands for Re-Integration of Offenders. Those employees help inmates make the transition from the tightly controlled world of a prison to the vast challenges and temptations of the outside.
And even though no parole officers will be cut, some of their support staff will. That is going to make it harder for parole officers to do their difficult jobs effectively.
Many prison inmates have poor education or social skills. They often abuse drugs or alcohol, or they may have mental health issues.
If they are simply dumped back into society when their sentences are up without sufficient preparation or oversight, they clearly stand a bigger chance of reoffending and returning to prison.
The Texas prison system was hardly overfunded to begin with. State officials have to be very careful that the immediate savings of these budget cuts don't end up costing Texans far more in the long run.
These cuts are just a taste of what's coming. TDCJ has only agreed to close one unit - the Central Unit in Sugar Land, where local developers are salivating to turn the property into a private business park - but otherwise has said it would slash probation, treatment, parole and reentry funding and dangerously reduce its guard-to-inmate ratio before considering closing another one.
Unless legislators propose policy solutions to reduce mass incarceration - and there are a few already out there which Grits will be discussing soon, though not on the scale needed to solve the problem - there's a limit to how many beds the Lege can require TDCJ to cut. If those discussions are occurring, and I'm sure they are, they're not happening yet publicly. At this point in the session, there's little time left for dawdling before TDCJ's regressive priorities become the only option on the table, at the expense of Texas' much-lauded 2007 probation reforms which have drawn national approbation and mimicry.
There is probably political will to cut more deeply into prisons. After all, both the Governor and the filed version of HB 1 would cut nearly $800 million from TDCJ's budget. What's missing is a plan from any key legislative leader so far to counter the agency's Maximum Prisons approach. Texas legislative sessions are short and we're a third of the way through this one. If the only plan on the table for budget reduction says "cut reentry and community supervision first," when push comes to shove that's what'll be implemented. That implies that soon it'll be time for Mssrs Whitmire and Madden, Chairmen of the Senate Criminal Justice and House Corrections Committees, respectively, to reach into their hats looking for rabbits to pull out that let them cut the agency budget but save the diversion programs they've worked so hard to create. Otherwise, the misplaced priorities lamented by the Beaumont Enterprise will be enacted writ large when the much deeper cuts that are surely coming get implemented come September 1, 2011.
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