$4.9 billion in All Funds ($4.8 billion in General Revenue Funds and General Revenue–Dedicated Funds) is provided for the incarceration of adult offenders in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice which includes housing, security, classification, food and necessities, health care, and treatment services. The bill includes a net decrease of $5.5 million in General Revenue Funds, which includes reductions compared to the 2010–11 biennium of $71.5 million for Correctional Managed Health Care services, $7.8 million for Texas Correctional Industries, $4.8 million for correctional support and other operations, $1.5 million for academic and vocational programs, and $0.5 for treatment services; and increases of $36.8 million for correctional security, $16.1 million for contract prisons, private state jails, and residential parole facilities, $15 million for contracted temporary capacity, and $12.7 million for substance abuse treatment.An aggregate $5.5 million cut to spending on incarcerating adult offenders is a downright offensively paltry sum at a time when education and Medicaid will experience multi-billion dollar cuts. Faced with a choice between funding schools or prisons, in other words, the Texas Legislature decided it values prisons more. I see no other way to explain the outcome except as an expression of (misplaced) legislative priorities.
The budget continues Texas' longstanding pattern of prioritizing incarceration over community supervision and diversion programming. TDCJ's budget overall was cut $21.9 million, but with just $5.5 million cut from incarceration, that means community supervision got a $16.4 million haircut - less than previously anticipated, but with 80+% of TDCJ funding going to incarceration, 75% of cuts came from the smallest part of TDCJ's budget. Despite the success of much-touted de-incarceration reforms in 2007 and the resultant drop in crime, the Lege refused to further reduce costs by reducing incarceration. Frustrating; even angering.
The only bright spot on that ignominious list is the slight boost in substance abuse programming, but that amount won't be nearly enough to avoid estimated incarceration growth after Texas had successfully staved off new prison spending in recent budgets. There would be no need for the $31.5 million in private/contract prison costs if diversion programs had been expanded. Indeed, programs aimed at reducing incarceration could have mitigated the need for $36.5 million in additional "security" spending. Closing the Central Unit alone should have saved enough to cover that amount, but instead of making plans to incarcerate fewer people, the Lege chose to shift incarceration from public to private facilities with virtually no resultant savings. These priorities amount to an abandonment of the smart-on-crime reform approach for which Texas has recently received national praise.
Meanwhile, the $71.5 million cut to prison healthcare spending comes at a time when UTMB-Galveston was already claiming they couldn't afford to provide prison healthcare under their previous budget. And since we clearly won't be incarcerating fewer people (and since the prison population is aging, with health costs therefore rising), it's hard to imagine this won't result in further erosion of health services despite assertions from officials that previous levels of care were "barely" constitutional.
This budget isn't quite as damaging as cuts in 2003, but it replicates that Legislature's approach of promoting incarceration at the expense of community supervision and diversion programs. Talk is cheap; mass incarceration is not. This session the Legislature talked a good game on being "smart on crime," but looking at the resulting budget decisions, talk is all it was.