Monday, March 01, 2010

Which prison units should Texas close? Private contracts, security concerns may factor in

After Nicole at Texas Prison Bidness suggested private prison contracts might end up on the chopping block in light of Texas' massive budget shortfall predicted by the next legislative session, I asked the Department of Criminal Justice which private prison contracts will be up in the coming year. Here's the list:

A couple of notable contracts stand out as potential candidates for cuts.

For starters, the Mineral Wells facility was the one unit state Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire is interested in closing, and for security reasons, not because of the budget. The contract for that troubled facility ends conveniently around a month after the next legislative session starts, meaning there's a lot of time for budget pressures to build between now and then. What's more, the Board of Pardons and Parole hasn't really been using the Mineral Wells facility the way it was intended, so there's no special reason to keep it opened compared to, say, Intermediate Sanctions Facilities on the list.

Equally interesting to me is the fact that the Dawson State Jail's contract with Corrections Corporation of America is up for renewal next January. This ill-placed facility is located in downtown Dallas on the banks of the Trinity River in prime real estate the city hopes to redevelop. So the fact that Dawson's contract ends on January 15, 2011 is a significant date for the city of Dallas: If the state renews the contract, the proposed riverfront redevelopment could be put on hold indefinitely.

It's possible, then, we may see members of the Dallas delegation and related development interests pushing for non-renewal, though certainly CCA will have its own lobbyists on the other side.

Finally, since we're discussing factors that might make prison closures likely, the Central Unit in Sugarland had a security breach over the weekend resulting in a lockdown after an inmate walked off the unit to get a pack of cigarettes at a nearby convenience store before returning to the facility. The unit was already on the short list of TDCJ facilities plagued with contraband, and this incident perhaps demonstrates why! (MORE: From Click2Houston, "Prison inmate leaves, goes to Walmart")

Regular readers will recall that the local Chamber of Commerce crowd wants the Central Unit moved because it's in the way of development surrounding a regional airport, and the General Land Office has said a prison is not the highest, best use of the property. Now we can add security concerns to the list of arguments for closing the century-old prison farm.

TDCJ so far has punted on suggesting priorities for prison closures, suggesting instead that the state either exempt it from cuts or slash treatment, diversion and anti-recidivism programs that would quickly fill all the units back to capacity. But legislators are discussing the idea whether TDCJ likes it or not. Once required cuts get into nine-figure levels, the temptation will be great to close older, less secure units or those in the way of regional development interests. The only other option is to cut community supervision investments which have saved the state hundreds of millions in projected new prison spending, and I doubt state officials will completely absolve TDCJ from any cuts at all.


Anonymous said...

Mineral Wells and Bridgeport would be great for starters. It cost $47 dollars per day to house inmates at CCA Mineral Wells. Most of these inmates are low level custody offenders which can be housed cheaper at TDCJ for $32 per day. With trusty inmates at the private unit, TDCJ is unable to fill up their trusty camps that run cheaper than the private units.

There is no need to cut state employees. Increasing parole and cutting private contracted beds are what the LBB and the Governor's Budgeting Office need to be looking at. I doubt they will exempt the agency from budget cuts. I agree with Senator Whitmire’s stance that the state need to be look at closing the private contract unit and not shutting down vital state infrastructure during a recession. Once TDCJ units are shut down, the state will be at private contractor’s mercy.

Anonymous said...

Private prisons don't actually save much money over public ones and have the downside of building both financing and profit into the daily rate. Additionally, the more dependent the state becomes on private prisons the more influence private providers have on corrections policy decision. Unlike state employees, private prison officials can lobby legislators and make campaign contributions to ensure that their financial interests are on the radar for law makers.

Private and public sector interests and values are not the same. From the private sector perspective there is no such thing as too much incarceration in a civil society.

Anonymous said...

Instead of just focusing on closing prisons what shouldn't we advocate for reducing the crime culture that leads so many to prison.

Doesn't it start with the family? Parents could support their children and prepare them for success in school and life. The biggest mistake we make is to give the biological fathers a pass and expect other people to rush in and take this deadbeat's place.

Why give him a pass. He's spending money, just not on his children. He's spending time, just not with his children. Is there any reason he has to treat the mother of his children with disrespect?

Anonymous said...

The Huntville Unit (AKA: The Walls)should be on the list. It remains open only because of politics. I have commented on the "whys" in earlier posts.

Retired 2004

Anonymous said...

Unsecure Facility....checkout Sugar Land...supposedly had a trusty take a quick trip to the store for smokes after hours last week. Unit on lockdown. Was in a couple of papers, but pretty hush, hush for now. Meaning it did not make the rounds with all the wardens knowing about it (I told a warden yesterday who did not have a clue).

Anonymous said...

Two things: one opinion, one fact.
1) Private prisons are a moral outrage. If a government deems it necessary to remove a citizen from society, it should be both ultimately and primarily responsible for him. Certain government functions do not lend themselves to privatization. Prisons are first on that list. If a government/republic/empire seeks to cage its citizens, it should run the cage. A for-profit keeper will deny basics in the name of profit, but will always be disingenuous about it. Examples of this are everywhere in Texas' private prisons and juvenile facilities.

2) The Board of Pardons and Paroles does not assign inmates to the Mineral Wells and Bridgeport "pre-parole transfer" units. They are so named, but do not so function. Inmates are sent there by some burueaucrat(s) within the TDCJ. The Board does not send them there. The Board is responsible for casting release votes on all inmates, including those of whom many were improvidently placed in those facilities. The Board uses its guidelines and measurement instruments heavily in release votes. It does not take in to consideration WHERE the inmate is housed. That error rightly belongs to TDCJ.

Anonymous said...

Kyle Unit - I could be mistaken, but I think they have over 300 vacant beds right now.....

Anonymous said...

What cultural trends encourage people to harm their neighbors and have to be removed from society? Can we afford this culture of crime?

A Fox News poll released Friday shows that 78 percent of American voters say they think government spending is out of control, while 14 percent say it is being managed carefully.

In addition, 81 percent of voters say they are fed up with the growing federal deficit.

Hook Em Horns said...

We cannot possibly close the FAMOUS "WALLS". My God, it is synonymous with PRISON IN TEXAS but then again TEXAS is SYNONYMOUS with prisons and the gurney and all the crap TDCJ and politicians thrive on.

How about we close ALL the prisons on the list and start living within our means.

Anonymous said...

I was an inmate at Mineral Wells PPTF and during the time I was there I saw several people life flighted out after being beat by other inmates for little or no reason. The gangs run the place, dope, cell phones, and anything else you want is available. The guys there are housed in dorms of about 300 with two guards who sit on the first floor almost the whole time. While some guards are good, the turnover is so incredibly high that it's hard to get two good ones at once. Plus, for a while the parole rate was extremely low from this facility, leading a lot of people to speculate about kickbacks to keep the beds full and the profits rolling in.

Deborah said...

They really need to close up Wayne Scott Unit in Angleton-- the place is literally falling apart (my husband said part of a ceiling fell on an inmate?) and the dorms leak, the sewers in the A, B, and C units are all open, leading to fly and mosquito problems, their kitchen needs to be reported to the health department for so many infractions. The showers are like something you would see in a third-world country, the guards have a real high turnover, they give out ice to the guards and big fans, but none to the inmates and some of the older ones are going to suffer this summer. I have had my husband do an I-60 to the Umbudsmen, with NO result. My husband is in there for writing a bad check 20 years ago!

Unknown said...

I was assigned to the Retrieve Unit in 1984. At that particular time it was one of the better units to do time on.