Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Lack of private beds shouldn't stop Texas from using treatment, diversion strategies

At a hearing this morning in reaction to testimony from TDCJ officials about difficulties finding new aftercare beds and delays in opening authorized treatment facilities, Chairmen Turner and Whitmire expressed concern that if TDCJ can't get all its allocated treatment beds online by the time the Legislature starts, a) somebody will try to raid the unspent money and b) it will be difficult to argue for expanding treatment programs.

The debate, unfortunately, avoided discussion of the most obvious solution. A central aspect of the 2007 reforms was to rely entirely on privatized contracts to expand treatment capacity. The problem has come when literally no vendors at all bid on some of the contracts. TDCJ chief Brad Livingston replied that the supply of beds had dried up in the short run.

But just because the market won't provide a service doesn't mean the government shouldn't fulfill those functions. Government policy shouldn't be limited by what vendors are willing to offer.

I'm not an inherent critic of privatization and tend to consider its merits on a case by case basis. But when that strategy can't meet the state's needs, there's nothing wrong with the state operating those beds itself just like the government owns most Texas' prison facilities. If private capacity has all dried up, that's exactly what they should do.

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