Senate and House negotiators have tentatively agreed on a plan to close two privately run state prisons, potentially resolving a political feud that threatened to derail the reauthorization of the state’s criminal justice agency.
Officials confirmed Friday that instead of specifying which two prisons should be shuttered, at a time when the state has more than 12,000 empty prison beds, lawmakers will let the prison system’s governing board decide which facilities to close.
But under new criteria that the Legislature has directed the prison board to use, a Mineral Wells prison that House members have been fighting to keep open will probably still be prime for closure. ...
Lawmakers said wording will be added to the budget bill specifying that two prisons must be closed — without naming them — while removing $97 million in funding, the cost of operating Mineral Wells and Dawson.If accurate, this is good news. The story doesn't mention the Jones County facility but if they're closing two units TDCJ likely won't be buying another one. Grits, of course, has been pressing for this course of action for some time.
Leaders in both chambers said an agreement has been reached to close Dawson, but lawmakers who represent Mineral Wells are still fighting to keep their facility open. They argue that closing it would devastate the Mineral Wells economy.
Two years ago Texas closed a prison for the first time since the state first built one in the 1840s - a nearly century-old unit built to provide cheap labor to a now-defunct sugar plantation. This session it looks like we may close two more-recently built private units. If Sen. Whitmire succeeds in shutting down Dawson and Mineral Wells, or whichever two units end up being closed, Grits believes the goal should be to close four more when the next session rolls around in 2015. Indeed, with relatively modest policy alterations, it's not hard to envision closing more than that over the next few sessions. Incarceration rates have failed to decline with crime rates and over the last two decades, policy has been the main driver of incarceration levels, up or down, far more than crime rates. The Legislature could and should decide to spend less on prisons, starting with this biennium's budget.
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