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.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.
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.
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: