Tuesday, March 09, 2010

TDCJ budget cut discussions ignore savings from possible prison closures

The Texas House Appropriations Committee yesterday gave Department of Criminal Justice director Brad Livingston a pass on whether prison closures should be part of his agency's budget cutting strategies.

He walked the committee through his list of suggested budget cuts (pdf), but legislators allowed these very politicized proposals to frame the terms of debate. To hear Livingston tell it, legislators face a choice between two options: a) doing nothing or b) slashing treatment and diversion programming that has kept Texas' prison population down. (See the video here. Livingston's testimony begins about the 1:40:00 mark.)

Livingston told the committee TDCJ had proposed cuts to "every single function of the agency," but that's not actually true: The one option he didn't suggest - the enormous elephant in the room that nobody mentioned - is cutting into the 80% of TDCJ's budget which goes toward operating 112 prison units, some of them more than 100 years old and highly inefficient. But TDCJ proposed NO prison unit closures as a means to cut the budget, and nobody asked him about the topic yesterday.

TDCJ did suggest (but recommended against) closing 817 private beds, but so far, TDCJ spokesperson Michelle Lyons told me recently, they've not identified which unit's numbers would be reduced. Bottom line, though: Prisons are mainly what TDCJ spends its money on, and prospects for budget cuts are marginal if all suggestions ignore 80% of their budget!

Since TDCJ won't broach the issue, proposing only disingenuous, untenable cuts that they know legislators can't accept, it'll be up to the Legislature to set the agency's priorities for them. If budget writers can summon the wisdom and political courage, the best route would be to boost funding for community supervision and strengthen probation instead of cutting it, as Livingston's 5% proposal would do.

The smartest way to cut Texas' corrections budget is sending more defendants through diversion programs and closing a targeted handful of our most expensive, unsecure, or understaffed prison units.

See related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

Livingston's pockets are lined with private prisons' green.

Anonymous said...

Or do you also mean private interest groups green's? Brad could overhaul the system and make it work like a well oiled machine. What's the problem Brad?

Anonymous said...

Having worked for a private prison company in the 90's, I'd say locating prisons all over the state was all about economic development. Local elected officials. state senators ad reps and local chambers of commerce and business interests were always at the forefront. And, closing prisons encounter the same problems today from the same people. Public safety be damned, just follow the money.

Pyote and Vernon are not closed yet and I question whether they will be. It's all about economic development and jobs.

Anonymous said...

It's been highly evident, with the few exceptions of providing money for treatment beds from the past few legislative sessions, that Community Supervision Departments have always been the step-children of TDCJ since their consolidation under TDCJ's umbrella. Now with this testimony, it's even more evident. Let's cut diversion programs and keep the prisons open and to hell with programs that actually work and keep people out of prison! Thank you TDCJ, you are such an inspiration to us all!

Hook Em Horns said...

THEY DONT WANT TO CLOSE PRISONS...HELLO? Get out of fantasy land and get into TEXAS. Closing prisons is NOT AN OPTION!