Sunday, August 14, 2011

With Central Unit shuttered, what other TDCJ units might close in the future?

With the Central Unit in Sugar Land closing, an event driven as much by local development demands as prison policy, Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman indulges in speculation on what other units might find themselves on the chopping block in the future:
Nearby, a new high school and homes have popped up near the Jester I Unit. A new intermediate school and strip-center have opened just across from the Jester III and IV prisons. Custom homes, some valued at about $1 million, back up to the Vance Unit. Prison cotton fields and livestock sheds now sit alongside for-sale signs along Texas 99 that bisects the former prison farms.

Officials note that Texas is perhaps the only state in the country now with hundreds of empty prison bunks and the possibility of having even more in the future, if trends hold.

Even so, House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, said that the future of nearby prisons is secure for now.

"There's been no discussion about others down there," he said. "Development has surrounded Central, and the community there wanted another use for that site. This is driven partly by what the communities want there, but no one has said they want this for any other units down there."

Even so, Madden said other opportunities may emerge as other rural prisons become urban, in a shift that benefits community-based rehabilitation and treatment programs that have proven successful in reducing recidivism in Texas.
If I were a betting man, I'd wager the next two units with the best chance of closure are two private facilities: the pre-parole unit in Mineral Wells, and the Dawson State Jail in downtown Dallas. The former has had persistent problems with contraband, while the latter, just as with the Central Unit, has been targeted for closure by the local chamber of commerce crowd to make way for a long-planned, city-backed development. But the closing the Jester Units mentioned would also make a lot of sense. With local development already encroaching, prisons and prison farms may no longer be the highest best use of that property. Who knows? In 2013, with projected budget shortfalls even greater than those faced by the state this spring, TDCJ may finally have to make such hard choices, which were for the most part kicked down the road like an old tin can in the 82nd Texas Legislature.

15 comments:

S and C said...

I noted where you mentioned the Jester Units (I,III, and IV) would be among the most logical prisons to shutter next. My one concern is that Jester I (a SAFP Special Needs unit) and Jester IV (a psychiatric unit) are among the (very) few units in the TDCJ system that provide the "services" that they do--and while I know precious little about Jester IV and how long it takes to transfer from a county jail to a psychiatric unit such as Jester IV for inmates who need that level of psychiatric help, but it took my fiance C nearly three months after being ordered by the court to go to SAFP to be sent to a SAFP unit, partly because he was deemed "Special Needs".
Now, don't get me wrong--I definitely have no issue with more prisons being shuttered, particularly ones that have issues with contraband. My concern is that with there not being many ISF, SAFP, or psychiatric units in the TDCJ system, inmates in need of these programs may end up having to sit in county jail (for TDCJ states those ordered to go to SAFP must remain in county jail until a bed opens in a SAFP unit) for who knows how long, and closure of a unit like Jester I without modifying another unit to be able to successfully run a SAFP program will merely lead to longer stays in county jails, which leads to higher costs at the county level and more anguish for the loved ones of said inmates (time spent in county jail does not count towards time an inmate must spend in SAFP, otherwise C would almost be home!).
I do hope that our Lege does see the wisdom in shuttering more prisons in the future...but I also hope that if they do decide to shutter a unit such as Jester I or Jester IV that they modify another unit to accommodate inmates in need of special programs instead of shrugging, "Oh, we closed down a unit that housed inmates in need of special programs? Oh well. They'll just have to sit in county 'til a bed opens up at one of the units left that have those sorts of programs."
I ought to know better than to expect such wisdom from our Lege, but one can hope...

RSO wife said...

If they are going to shut down some TDC units, maybe they should think about shutting down Darrington. It is an overnight stopover for men who are moving to Huntsville to be released. it is an old nasty, dirty place with rats, lots of insects and bad food. Of course, the land around it probably isn't all that valuable, so they will leave that one alone. Let's face it, it isn't the prisoners or even the prison that counts, it's what the bureaucrats can manipulate to get the best publicity and rake in the most votes.

The Homeless Cowboy said...

To S and C: If it's a psych or SAFP unit it is being looked at. The common solution now seems to be shuffle them off to someone elses budget. Leaving special needs inmates in county jails is the worst thing we can do as a society but since when do we worry about junk like that? I would agree with RSO's wife about Darrington, (I graduated high school there in 1973) it is a dirty rat and roach infested hole in the earth. It should last another 2-3 decades in our system. We can only hope that conditions allow Texas to send fewer inmates to prison (yea Right) and that we are able to get the Lege to close a few. When I went to prison in 1971 there were 14 prisons in Texas. Today there are well over a hundred. Boys and Girls - We need to have a long look in the mirror and ask our selves WHY?????

Anonymous said...

I agree with S and C. When many of the psychiatric facilities were shut down all over the country (1970's?), unfortunately, the mentally ill ended up incarcerated. Although it is not good to incarcerate so many folks, I'm glad that the prison systems has more services (mental health, substance abuse) than it did in the 70's. Just wish it didn't have to be in a prison. I certainly would hate for these services to go away...if they do, these folks just end up coming right back and never get any help.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

FWIW, I'd not seen the Jester units discussed before Ward's story, and still think the other two I cited are likely to go first. And the Lege is out of session, of course, until 2013. Great points about Jester I and IV.

That said, the lesson from the Central Unit closure is it's a lot easier to do politically if locals want it closed than if they don't That's why the Dawson State Jail is high on the possible list. So if local development is encroaching on the Jester units, eventually there will be calls to use that property for other purposes. If history is any guide, TDCJ is more likely to react to pressure from THOSE constituencies than from activists pushing generally for de-incarceration.

Speaking of which, can anybody name other units that used to be rural but where local suburbs are starting to encroach? Please list them (with, if possible, a description of the encroaching development) below.

Farrel said...

well it seems to me that now that the prisons dont make the inmates woork in the fields anymore they could be condensed to smaller more manageable acreage,,,my question though is where does all this money from the sales go? to the State? back into the system? for improvements? construction of new units? In the 70s people came from all over the world to study the Texas prison system because it was self supporting..they grew thier own crops ,raised thier own cows and,pigs sheep chickens etc etc...but after the Ruiz Decision and a large dose of corruption and greed...all of a sudden now it cost 30 plus thousand a year to house one inmate....I dont understand that when there are whole families out here living and contributing to society on a lot less....so sales need to be watched follow the money

Texas Maverick said...

Sen Ogden was the key to the closures and his concern for holding unused beds in reserve for the "projected" need resulted on only one closure. This was on the finance committee not the criminal justice committee. IMO Odgen needs to be "educated" on real world needs not "projected." Hopefully, Mark and Ana will step up to the plate and do the research on the units that could safely be closed since their testimony does carry a lot of weight. Be glad to help but haven't been asked.

Deborah said...

Why are there 100 TDCJ units in Texas now and ? private units? You can thank ole "G-Dubya" and "Tricky Ricky Perry" (alias "Ole Flip-Flop" and "the Good Ole Boys" for their "Tough on Crime" laws who lock everyone up, for opening new prisons and making prison industries inc into a lucrative market. Just an opinion. What do you think, Grits?

Prison Doc said...

Nice try Deborah, but the problem neither starts nor resides in the governor's office. It runs deep throughout all jurisdictions, it seems. Lock more to the legislature than the governor and contact legislators who can have some influence.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Actually, Deborah, it was Ann Richards who pushed to triple the size of Texas' prison capacity. (Though Dubya did expand use of youth prisons.) As a practical matter, Democrats in Texas are responsible for most new crimes passed at the Lege, the majority penalty enhancements, and certainly the massive adult prison expansion in the '90s.

Don't make the mistake of pretending partisan labels tell you anything about criminal justice policy. There's a bipartisan consensus supporting the "tuff on crime" crowd and a few iconoclasts in both parties that oppose the dominant view. Dems, though, seem to feel a greater need to prove how "tuff" they are, making them the more common source of draconian policies.

Anonymous said...

We won't close another prison for 40 years, watch and wait.. We're too in love with our oyster laws and enhancements to risk closing one down that *might* be used in the Near (3 generations) future..

Sheldon tyc#47333 said...

Back in the game TDC was totally self sufficient. Interesting how the tough on crime crowd coupled with the fallout from the Ruiz case has caused our little prison farms to blossom into massively expensive kennels ripe with administrative corruption. embark

Grits, a community will close or keep a unit open, that is true. Dawson State Jail stands in the way of political monuments and has to go. At the other end, the sorry pieces of excrement that inhabit Coryell county have kept the tradition of abusing children and women alive for generations. In 1970 the representative from down there was acting governor who perceived the impending investigation. To guard against the loss of revenue he issued a proclamation for the wonderful job the people were doing at the facility. Soon thereafter the place was shuttered to the boys by a federal court order due to gross abuse of power. Those old facilities were turned over to TDC to move the female offenders in. A real reason was to keep developers from digging up any corpses of children buried in unmarked graves by the sorry pieces of excrement that inhabit Coryell county and worked at that place over the years.
For several years as the place was in transition people didn’t lose their jobs even with the exponentially declining number of inmates, similar to what is happening in Brownwood today.

The Gatesville facilities were built in a valley and the dormitories were built in such a way that when the windows were open a cool breeze blew through the dorm. Even in the 100 degree summers the breeze would keep you cool. When the dorms were retrofitted with cubicles for the females, since they are so much more dangerous than males, the breeze that once blew through the bunk room was impeded. The temperature inside those old dorms today can be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

The town has grown around the Gatesville facility. Where an inmate could once look out of the dorm window and see hopelessness and despair now they can see a convenience store and a honky-tonk. This is one place that should have been bulldozed but it will never happen. The state won’t allow disrupting the unmarked graves of the “little boys” who still haunt the place.

Eli Stone said...

I assure you that TDCJ will take their cuts out of probation departments like they are doing now! Probation departments with centers were forced to close 7 centers with a loss of over 350 beds that helped probationers with substance abuse problems.

The number of offenders sent to prison and placed on probation continues to drop thanks to County/District Attorneys not moving cases. So something has to give---close prisons or probation departments!!!

Anonymous said...

The worst Warden TDCJ has at Jester 1 is Warden Bradshaw. That little lying magit cannot talk to his staff. Yes they need to close Vance, Jester 1 and Three. A middle school opened up this week right next door. Logos

redell said...

Having a family member moved from the Dallas County jail to a SAFP facility is like trying to find a needle in a hay-stack. I made several call to the jail without much help. I purused the internet and his booking number had become defunct...waited until today to try again. Called his former attorney, nothing, cand called jail again and spoke with someone with a brain, at last! Given the number to Jester I and plugged into the medical department, and the lady was impeccable I spoke with. Finally got TDCJ # and ascertained the unit assigned to, besides she told me she would fax out info given her as per my family member's health/mental issues needs. Asked that I follow up before the weeks' end and given the person to speak with at the unit's medical department. At last, I was able to accomplish a small feat in getting through the TDCJ's system...Good luck folks, if you get my drift?