Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Perry vetoes leave prisons packed pending post-Rita patch up

Thanks to God and the Governor, Texas' prison overcrowding crisis just got a lot worse.

It turns out, Hurricane Rita severely damaged two Texas prison units near Beaumont, forcing the state to start leasing beds from county jails and private prisons more rapidly than predicted,
reported the Oct. 4 Austin Statesman ("Rita fills Texas prison system"). Exacerbating the problem, this spring Governor Perry vetoed legislation aimed at reducing overincarceration pressures, as well as additional money for leasing beds. Now, in the wake of Rita, those short-sighted decisions are coming back to bite the state in the ass:
"It's put a crunch in the system, that's for sure," said state Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston and chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, which oversees prison operations.

"We put money in the budget to lease about 6,000 beds over the next two years. This means we'll probably spend that sooner than we counted on. And that doesn't include whatever the cost will be to repair the damaged units."

Several top prison officials said privately that they expect the damage to be in the millions of dollars and that repairs could take months.After determining that the prison system could soon run out of bunks, lawmakers allocated $19.9 million in the spring to lease beds in the current fiscal year and $43.8 million for 2007. Gov. Rick Perry later vetoed all but $10 million for leased beds in the current fiscal year.

On Thursday, officials said, Texas' prison system held about 150,500 prisoners: 97 percent full. Several maximum-security units were reported to be 100 percent full, and some were operating at 102 percent of capacity.

The agency also had 826 beds leased in county jails and privately run jails, compared with less than 600 a few weeks ago.
No one could have predicted this kind of natural disaster. But that's why it was foolish for the state to cut its margins so close. Unpredictable things happen. Even without Hurricane Rita, because Governor Perry line-item vetoed much of the money for leasing new beds, it was likely Texas hadn't budgeted enough money for prison costs this biennium. Now, thanks to poor state planning and an Act of God, Texas prisons will remain overcrowded, and continue to bleed red ink, into the foreseeable future.


Anonymous said...

I think rather than focusing your point that Texas is short on money for prison bed leasing (privatization of prisons) your focus should lie on reducing the number of non-violent offenders that clog the prison system.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You're preaching to the choir, Kristen! :-) But since the Governor vetoed legislation strengthening probation to reduce the number of nonviolent offenders Texas incarcerates, I figure it's worth keeping up with and pointing out how much $$$ that decision is costing us in extra incarceration costs. I'm with you, though - incarcerating too many nonviolent people who pose little threat is the cause of it all. Best,

Anonymous said...

I also believe that it is a waste to incarcerate non-violent offenders. I think we could use that money to do more valueable things. It unbelieveable how much we spend to keep people locked up. We should find a way to cut the cost!!!!