Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Governor endorses radical cuts to prison agency

Regular readers know that the Texas House and Senate have already released draft budgets that suggested massive cuts to state agencies across the board, including at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. At TDCJ, the House suggested cutting $786.4 million from the total requested budget, and the Senate recommended cutting $583.6 million, both remarkably large sums.

Yesterday after his State of the State speech, Governor Rick Perry's office released the governor's own suggested budget (pdf), recommending the Lege adopt the House's more aggressive approach to prison-agency cuts. He also recommended selling the land around the Central Unit in Sugar Land, estimating it would bring in $30 million. That may be a little high; a 2006 appraisal estimated the market value of the land at $10.2 million, and I doubt it's triple that now given the intervening recession. But even with such small optimisms, Perry is suggesting a 12.7% cut to state corrections spending, a task which can only be reasonably accomplished by scaling back the prison population and closing prisons. (After all, the entire line item for probation and diversion programs combined doesn't approach $786 million.)

Remarkably, Perry's budget also favors canceling the state's contract with UTMB-Galveston to provide prison healthcare, suggesting (somewhat implausibly) either TDCJ or a private sector company could do the job for less:
Due to the recent audit report findings by the State Auditor’s Office, and the subsequent letter sent by the University of Texas Medical Branch requesting to end the contract for Correctional Managed Care, the Governor’s budget recommends canceling necessary contracts early to explore private sector delivery options, or instructing the state-supported institution to provide correctional care according to the constitutional minimum level, saving the state $30 million.
Except for his line-item veto at the endgame, the Governor has little power to influence the budget beyond releasing his own in sort of a "bully pulpit" strategy. So his decision to use that pulpit to support radical cuts at TDCJ is perhaps telling. Perry's budget frees up conservative Republicans in the Lege to talk openly about prison closures. It also signals that he won't oppose (and indeed has endorsed) extremely large cuts at TDCJ - much larger than anyone might have thought possible just a short time ago.

Folks at TDCJ and in the criminal justice-related committees at the Lege must now begin to get serious about what it means to cut $600-$800 million from TDCJ's budget, including enacting policy changes to reduce Texas' bloated inmate population: It's nearly, but not quite, time that the Texas Legislature must begin believing impossible things.

See related, recent Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

I just don't trust Governor Perry. I still remember what happened in 2003. Tony Fabelo was with the Criminal Justice Policy Council at the time, and he told the legislature that making TDCJ's proposed cut of 50% to probation would be a disaster. As a reward for telling the truth, Governor Perry line item vetoed the Policy Council out of existence.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

OTOH, 10:26, he can't disband the LBB and they're also saying that cutting probation would cause the prison population to go up.

Also, IMO Perry's somewhat modified his stance since then. For example, he vetoed probation reform in 2005 then signed an essentially similar bill in 2007, which a) worked as advertised and b) didn't cause him any political blowback, and in fact earned him national credit. He's also spent money that used to go to drug task forces to help launch dozens of drug/specialty courts. Don't get me wrong, he's no Jerry Madden. But considering his overall record, there's been a notable learning curve on these topics since 2003.

Anonymous said...

Sen Whitmire has already said that TDCJ proposals are DOA. Madden and Whitmire are a powerful team whether you like them or not. They and their allies have changed the system to include alternatives that have brought national attention to TX. My bet is that they will give up a lot of things before they give up what they created and if Perry has any sense he will back them all of the way. He is the one that will get credit for the TX model that has garnered so much attention.

Texas Maverick said...

Texas just got national press in this report.(full report can be accessed at

February 8, 2011
For Immediate Release


Washington, D.C.—Congressman Frank Wolf (R-VA) was joined by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) today to highlight the challenges facing the nation's corrections and criminal justice system and to unveil a new report from the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center offering proven strategies to increase public safety, reduce recidivism and save taxpayer dollars.

Hook Em Horns said...

Anonymous said...
I just don't trust Governor Perry.

You, like a lot of us here, are in the minority. Ole GoodHair was re-elected with a mandate to do as he damn well pleases.

If we don't like it, we can always move or, in my case, just pray that he runs for POTUS so we can be rid of him!

Anonymous said...

There are thousands of inmates incarcerated in TDC&J prisons that are not or are no longer a threat to society; many of these are non-violent offenders who are there primarily to help politicians (the biggest crooks of all) look good to their constituents; it's all about re-election. Consider this, Texas has the third largest prison system in the world, behind China and Russia. And I dare not think how many innocent people are in Texas prisons, considering the monstrosity of corruption in the prosecutorial agencies and the gross underfunding of the public defenders office. It is also time Texas re-wrote legislation and ended the practice of electing judges, which is an obvious conflict of interest.

Anonymous said...

The cuts that need to be considered is in the Agencies top brass in the rank of Directors and Deputy Directors.