Key among the savings proposals that most likely would not have been considered just a few years ago is House Bill 3764, which would push prison officials to keep thousands of fewer convicts in solitary confinement.The fiscal note on the bill says savings cannot be calculated because TDCJ would have to implement extra, unspecified new security measures if it reduce the ad seg population. "According to TDCJ, on August 31, 2010, approximately 6 percent of offenders incarcerated in prison had a custody status indicating administrative segregation; 99 percent were classified as a danger to others; 71.9 percent of those inmates were classified as being a member of a security threat group or a clique. On August 31, 2010, approximately 1 percent of the confinees had a custody status indicating special management; 97 percent of those inmates were classified as being a member of a security threat group or a clique."
More than 8,500 felons are housed in "administrative segregation," where convicts spend 23 hours a day in a small single-bunk cell under constant — and expensive — security, allowed out only for a shower or for recreation.
Many are kept there for years, some for so long that they complete their sentence and go home directly from solitary confinement, having received little if any rehabilitation.
Prison officials say the convicts assigned to "ad seg" are a danger to themselves or others, are confirmed gang members or are escape risks.
They say the inmates are evaluated constantly to see whether they can be moved back into the general prison population.
Critics counter that Texas' current system is cruel and inhumane. And they say that other states have downsized their costly solitary programs with no problems.
Mississippi cut its high-security population from about 1,000 to 57, and Michigan has plans to do the same — a move officials have estimated could save the state $262 million.
"There's people I'd like to put in a box for 23 hours, but is it effective?" asked Rep. Marisa Marquez, D-El Paso, the author of the bill. "Is this really something that's necessary?"
Ward mentions Chairman Madden's shock probation legislation and suggestions to parole nonviolent illegal immigrants, see here, which would result in big savings, adding that, "More savings are contained in the obscure verbiage in dozens of other bills, including ones that would replace the state-funded Windham School District, which educates only prisoners, with a new adult education program; merge the state's juvenile justice agencies; deport foreign-citizen felons; charge prisoners more for their health care; and abolish free-rent housing and other perks for state prison employees." Ward also adds, though, that:
Many of the newest cost-cutting proposals under consideration seem to have support in the House, at least enough to perhaps gain the approval of Madden's committee, but Senate support remains uncertain. The Senate has proposed fewer cuts than were approved by the House in its budget plan.That seems like an accurate assessment. The House budget would cut so deeply that legislators have no choice but to consider ideas, like reducing use of solitary confinement, that would literally have been unthinkable, even laughable, in sessions when budgets were flush. If legislators are going to cut as much as the House and the Governor recommended, the need to reduce incarceration pressure becomes quite immediate, necessitating such radical measures even with advent of the new GOP supermajority. Party labels aside, budget crises have a way of sharpening pols' focus.
The proposed Senate budget, which is pending in committee and has not yet been debated or approved by the full chamber, would generally make fewer cuts in most corrections programs, especially treatment and rehabilitation initiatives.