Wednesday, November 17, 2010

TDCJ renews contract for state jail budget-cut candidate

Damn it. Robert Wilonsky at the Dallas Observer reports that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has renewed the contract with Corrrections Corporation of America to operate the Dawson State Jail in Dallas for the next seven years.

I'd considered Dawson a good candidate for potential closure because it's located in an area where the city has proposed a major redevelopment project and the local chamber of commerce types wanted it gone. (Legislation approved last year would allow TDCJ to trade the land to the city for a comparable piece of property within 20 miles of the facility.) What's more, the building isn't particularly suited for the purpose: it's a high-rise built in a river bottom where TDCJ must pay for air-conditioning in the summer, making its per-prisoner costs higher than other, comparable facilities.

This is a function of TDCJ refusing even to countenance the possibility of prison closures to save money. The agency has said they'll cut programming, medical care, and eliminate up to 7,300 staff before considering closure of a single unit. That's not a realistic (or safe) suggestion, but as long as legislators allow the agency to set the budget cutting agenda, they're clearly going to prioritize maximum spending on bricks and mortar while focusing cuts on their employees and treatment and diversion programs. If legislators want those priorities changed. budget writers must do it themselves - the agency so far has only been willing to suggest highly unrealistic spending reductions that actually would boost costs in other parts of the system.

I wrote earlier this year that TDCJ shouldn't be allowed to make decisions during the interim that lock in long-term spending that the Lege might need to cut, but that's exactly what they've done here. Clearly the state cannot substantially cut incarceration levels without policy changes in addition to line-item cuts in the agency budget. But given that budget cuts must be made, that only argues for legislators to begin changing policies, preferably before the agency takes any more unilateral moves to hem in the Legislature's options for reducing corrections spending.

Related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

Funny that the Dallas County Jail is right across the street from Dawson. Guess that would mean that it's built on the same river bottom?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

As I understand it, 12:45, the county jail is not implicated in the proposed development.

Same river bottom, though.

Anonymous said...

Like this comes as a surprise. Texas is a prison state, and the prisons wield enormous power here. They pretty much do w/e the frak they want to do, with both money and prisoners. Until enough people have been bent over by the system here, there won't be any meaningful restructuring. A sad commentary on texas politics, to be sure.

Prison Doc said...

Grits, I wish your website sidebar included a link for the names and contact info of the state legislators who are most involved with the prison system.

Anonymous said...

4 words,

It's Not their Money.

Ofcourse they re-up'd the contract. Look at the state of the Texas Budget, does it look like they give a crap about cautious spending?

Hook Em Horns said...

How about an expose' on Texas legislators and the prison lobby?

JTP said...

Well, it looks like TDCJ and the Legislature agree that the 20 Billion deficit can be reduced by cutting state spending in other agencies and programs. Maybe we will even see a personal income tax now as part of the solution. That would get the apathetic Texas voters in an uproar. Then again, apathy is what politicians and bureaucrats depend on. Leadership in Texas seems to be a rare comodity these days