Saturday, May 11, 2013

Report: Deal cut to close two private prisons

Though Grits had heard that the decision over prison closures wouldn't be made until a 9 a.m. meeting of the budget conference committee on Monday, at which I was told to expect "fireworks," Mike Ward at the Austin Statesman reported today ("Deal reported on plan to close two private prison," May 10) that a deal has been struck. His story opened:
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.

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.
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.

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.



Anonymous said...

Has anyone thought of closing some of the old, old prison units where inmates and employees suffer the intolerable heat and sickness from the mold and decay? Inmates could be transferred from these old units to the new ones. Makes a lot of humane sense to me. If the powers that be wish to outsource, then keep them "private". If not, let TDCJ buy those private units instead of closing them.

Some of these old prison units were built in the 1800s. How long do they think they can keep painting over the mold and decay and pretending these units are safe and humane. The majority of the illnesses in thee units are is caused by the decaying environment in which inmates are forced to live. And now family and friends of inmates have to pay for the "deductible" if they want their inmate loved ones to have health care. If TDCJ can't afford to treat their sick inmates, then eliminate the cause.

sunray's wench said...

Or, keep the prisons open but make more of them into single-inmate cells. Surely that would be a safer environment for all concerned, and would maintain a few of the jobs that would otherwise be lost.

Anonymous said...

Is there perhaps a correlation between the rapid growth of prison building & incarceration under Gov. Ann Richards when crime rates and trends were much higher, and the fruits of that is now a decline in crime rates due to the fact that many would be offenders are incarcerated and not at large in the public to reoffend? My fear is your calling for closure of more and more prisons based solely on the decreasing crime rate arguement may have the reverse effect you are wanting.

Anonymous said...

okay i read further down in another post your other arguements for the prison closures. those i can certainly agree with. Dawson has been plagued by the git-go with problems and should be closed. your previous commenter has a good point of closing antiquated (yet historical) prison units such as Eastham, Coffield, and the like sa they are terrible in many ways to both incarcerated individuals and literally 1000s of employees who work there. They are not as secure as Michael Unit protypes (since 1984) and are ill suited to todays correctional advances.

Anonymous said...

The old telephone pole units such as Eastham are more secure than the new 2250 Michaels prototype units. Many of the newer units were rushed during construction and are substandard to some of the older units. Correctional professionals need to be the ones to decide which units stay open. The design of the newer units was rushed to comply with the Federal Court ordered capacity requirements and most are poorly designed, leaving many blind spots. 2250 Units are death traps for staff and inmates. Just because it's new, doesn't mean it's better than older units. Most staff and inmates will tell you they would rather be on an older style TDCJ unit than than the newer ones. The older prisons were built to last and actually in most cases have less maintenance issues than newer units that were build to only last 20-30 years.

Anonymous said...

Well you have some valid points but I guess we have different view points regarding this. I have worked on all of the units that were mentioned in the past and found the newer ones "preferable" in many ways. I suspect you may have or still do have experience with these units as well and see them in a different light. From an employee standpoint I can tell you I preferred the Michael Unit style over the others. However, this is much room for improvement, taking some from the old, some from the new. The public doesn't care overall about conditions as they only think of punitive measures against offenders. However, they forget employees suffer these same conditions and these employees are members of the public and family people.