Friday, March 18, 2005

Katy bar the door: More prisons needed if new penalties pass

If any blog reader knows a staffer at the Texas House Appropriations Committee or the Legislative Budget Board, do me a favor, please, and whisper the following in their ear: Start figuring out how to pay for more prison beds, pronto!

If HB 151, approved by the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee yesterday, becomes law, you'll
need to come up with an extra $200 million or so to build prisons in this biennium. (That is, if the contractors all come in on-time and under budget.)

The legislative leadership may find it comforting to say they'll solve the overincarceration crisis with changes to the probation system, and I wish them well. LBB
can kid themselves, if they like, about the numbers, until the bill comes due. But none of it matters if the Lege keeps increasing prison sentences - especially passing bills like HB 151, which increases them from misdemeanors, where they're incarcerated in county jail, to felonies, where state government must pay for costly new prison beds.

That would make stealing CDs or a radio from a car, by all accounts mostly a juvenile "impulse" crime, Texas' 1,942nd felony! And once they get started, Katy bar the door. Check out the mountainous list of bills filed this year that increase prison sentences. What was that the Instapundit said about a Felonius Funk?

The need to build more prisons in Texas became a lot more likely after the House Criminal Jurisprudence passed out bills creating new enhancements for the crime burglary of a vehicle. I wrote about the public hearing on these bills

I thought the relevant criminal justice committees were being watchful against approving new penalty increases because they can't afford to build more prison beds.
I suppose the Senate Criminal Justice Committee might still prove a bulwark against bad decisions. But there's little evidence, now, the House will restrain more "enhancements."

They aren't planning for it in the current budget, but if HB 151 becomes law, Texas will have decided to start a new prison building spree all the same.

UPDATE: See the fact sheet from Solutions for Texas on this bill.

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