Instead of closing the other two prisons, [State Rep. Jerry] Madden said budget writers agreed to leave them open and to set aside about $15 million for prison officials to lease additional beds if needed over the next two years.Disappointing. Savings from prison closures should go to diversion programming, not private prisons. The goal should be to reduce incarceration levels, not to plan for failure. While Whitmire and Madden say diversion funding was kept at "acceptable levels," in this writer's view even the Senate's more generous diversion budget is too niggardly given LBB's projections. The better strategy, building on what was done in 2007, would have been to double down on community corrections funding (which is a lot cheaper per offender than prisons) and closing more prison units.
“I don’t think we’ll need the additional beds, but it’s a precaution,” said Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire, D-Houston.
Both Madden and Whitmire said funding for Texas’ prison treatment and rehabilitation programs have been funded at acceptable levels, meaning that additional convicts would be successfully diverted from state lockups onto parole and into community-based rehab programs that are much less expensive than incarceration in a state prison.
But guess what? Since they're underfunding big chunks of the budget, the state will face a similar fiscal crisis or worse in 2013, creating even more pressure to cut incarceration costs after ducking the issue this time around. Indeed, having set the precedent of closing a prison for the first time in Texas history, perhaps by then the political will may exist to follow through on what was started in '07. Either way, the same structural pressures for reform still exist; these issues aren't likely to recede any time soon.
Here's the LBB's line-item comparison (pdf) of Article V (Public Safety) from the House and Senate budgets, and here's a comparison (pdf) of the different riders in the two bills. Since the final version has not been approved, documentation reflecting the changes discussed by Ward have not yet been posted online.