Friday, March 23, 2007

House Budget Expands Treatment, No New Prisons

After learning earlier this week that the Texas Senate Finance Committee approved funding for three new prison units housing 4,000 inmates, I was glad to learn that the newly released House budget does NOT include similar funding for prison bond charges, at least so far.

Texas Criminal Justice Coalition Executive Director Ana Correa, who has analyzed the House budget and spoken to Appropriations Committee staff, confirmed today that the current draft of the House Appropriations bill anticipates no new prison building. That could conceivably change on the House floor (just as new prisons could conceivably be stripped out of the Senate budget), but in all likelihood this news sets up a conference committee showdown where the matter will be ultimately decided.

To be clear - nobody has suggested NOT funding Madden and Whitmire's treatment program. It's just that the Senate wants to build three new prisons, too, at a cost of $100 million per year for 20 years. Meanwhile, the House calculates that expanding secure treatment beds by 6,100 and boosting the parole rate a few points will be enough to avert the current crisis. The Senate leadership's "overabundance of caution," as Chairman Whitmire called it, or whatever is driving them toward new prison building, is unnecessary and counterproductive. I'm hopeful competing budget demands will quash the idea before the end of the story is told.

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