Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A plea to Texas budget conferees: Close two prison units, don't buy empty cells we don't need

This is a plea to the ten conference committee members on the budget from both chambers of the Texas Legislature, who for the record are:
  • House: Pitts, Crownover, Otto, S. Turner, Zerwas
  • Senate: Williams, Duncan, Hinojosa, Nelson, Whitmire
Let's talk for a moment about prisons. First the House and Senate have both agreed in the base budget to fund 5% employee raises for correctional workers. Please don't start slashing at those wage hikes to pay for prison units you don't need. Including the extra money to bail out Jones County, the House decision to buy a prison instead of closing two will cost Texans an extra $116.8 million in incarceration costs over the biennium for those line items compared to the Senate budget. Close the privately-run Dawson State Jail and Mineral Wells pre-parole units as suggested by Senate-side budget writers and tell the folks in Jones County they're on their own, just like so many other counties that built speculative prisons and jails they now can't fill.

Also, know up front that you have likely underfunded prison healthcare by around $50 million or so and will need to come back and fund it with a supplemental on the back end like the Lege did this year. TDCJ/UTMB, et al., have told the Lege what it will cost to provide care to prisoners but even the more generous Senate version of the budget is $55 million shy of the requested amount. Why not just budget what the health care actually costs instead of paying tens of millions on the back end as though it's some big surprise or "emergency?" Incarcerating felons is a core function of state government. Budget what it costs.

Members on the House side, given that your chamber suggested paying for employee raises as well as three extra prison units, you could agree to prison closures, increase prison health care funding to the requested amount, and still call the result a "savings." That would be the truly "fiscal conservative" approach: Reduce spending where feasible but pay your bills in full.

To Senators, each of you has been around long enough to see TDCJ require "supplemental" funds for health care at the beginning of each session year after year. Why intentionally underfund that line item and perpetuate the cycle?

With the two chambers in disagreement on prison closures, it's your decision. Texas made history and received national attention for closing the Central Unit. Grits urges you to follow Chairman Whitmire's lead, double down on that success and close two more. The state doesn't need them and the money is better spent on employee raises, prisoner healthcare, and probation programming.

MORE: A couple of different sites are calling for people to contact conference committee members telling them to close two prisons and don't buy another one, see here and here.

AND MORE: From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "Texas shouldn't keep spending on unneeded prisons."


Anonymous said...

Well said Grits. Let's hope they do the right thing and close 'em down.

Anonymous said...

A coalition of groups working to close these places down has a widget here that you can contact the conference committee members with: http://goo.gl/fUYQc

Anonymous said...

tdcj doesn't even have enough staff to man the prisons they have. My son is constantly telling me they get told frequently by guards that they are short staffed so that is why they are not letting them out into the dayroom where the phones are.

Prison Doc said...

I sent a letter to all of 'em. Hope everyone else does too.

Anonymous said...

Amen, Doc. Hope everyone does too.

Anonymous said...

these prisons save money. closing them will not result in any raise! If anything the extra funds it will take to watch those 4200 offenders will cause the State to take more away from the officers!!!!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

5:46, first, how do prisons save money? They're expensive! Second, if closing prisons in the Senate budget paid for CO raises, how can you say they're unrelated? Finally, which 4,200 offenders are you talking about? Inmate populations have peaked and begun to slightly decline. With wise policy choices, they can decline more.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.

Anonymous said...

Grits, our letter & email campaign (included a hardcopy and screen-shot of this Post's plea) & went one step further by requesting that -

Instead of mothballing any & all un-needed properties (and letting them rot) that they consider utilizing them as: *halfway houses, *pre-probation and *homeless shelters.

*Halfway houses - Currently the unemployed ex-offenders with no family ties are released and forced to live in neighborhoods and compete for jobs with the: Un-community, high school students, elderly & the desperate. Addressing this head-on will save millions while it reverses the recidivism rate and tackles the homeless and jobless issues.

*Pre-Probationary Requirement -
By ordering all probationers to report to units' closest to their family for mandatory 30 day One-Foot-In Programs, would reduce the chances of probationers ignoring requirements (or forgetting some of them due to the amount of rules). Resulting in job creation for: counselors, directors, support staff, while at the same time offering probationers the opportunity to volunteer and give back to the communities directly affected by their crime(s). If just 1000 probationers took one foot out of prison during the first 30 days, Texas would save millions on the front end vs. ... Overnight, we’d witness the 97% plea bargain rate plummet to the point of closing un-needed units on an annual basis. Guards on closed units can seek law enforcement training and address the border / gang issues.

*Homeless to Home in 60 seconds - By mandating that anyone that finds themselves homeless (either: it be just one day [runaways] or for the past decade [chronic]) they can report to any Fire Dept., Police Dept., or Court House (all publically owned properties) and request that they be transported to a Homes' for Humans' Community. All requestors will receive: initial medical check-up, drug test, psyche exam, a hot meal, three sets of the current years clothing, one way bus ticket & upon arrival a bed with secure storage. Verifiable / Honest work-days (5 days a week) in exchange for: housing, food and mandatory enrollment in - GED classes, drivers license classes, career training & substance abuse programs will remove thousands from under bridges, trees, tents, un-occupied properties. Common sense tells you that this will also reduce the crime rate and lead to further closings of un-needed prison units. Habitat for Humanity, Goodwill and other charities are just a few orgs. to consider for inclusion.

Of course it’s completely understood that they (politicians & their aides) will not read much-less consider these suggestions due to politics and the envelopes’ not containing a donation. Nevertheless, we did our civic duty and you are encouraged to go one step further also. The worst thing that could happen is that every single one of the recipients’ will act like they never received it (despite the certified return receipt mailings).

Anonymous said...

Anyone having positive solutions as to what can be done with the millions of acres surrounding the closed units; you are encouraged to share it here.

Anonymous said...

Millions of acres??!? Dawson may sit on about .5 of 1 acre!

Anonymous said...

Close em!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I think system wide they've got a little over 121,000 acres. Here's the most recent summary I'm aware of (pdf) on TDCJ's property holdings. Some of it is now in prime real estate and the state could make good money selling it off. Anything adjacent to parkland could be donated.

Nurseypooh said...

Close the units that are so old maintaining them cost to much. Utilize unused properties for halfway, homeless housing as suggested by one poster. Sell off land that can bring a good fair price and use those funds to give officers a pay increase, fund health care the way it should be, open up more after care programs to reintegrate prisoners into society.
I haven't posted here in a long time as I left my job with in TDCJ/UTMB last year, I love my new job and after being gone a while I feel I was actually traumatized by the amt. of work load and stress put on all of the healthcare workers with in TDCJ. It didn't used to be so bad before all the cut backs and lay offs I used to enjoy my job there back when we had enough medical staff to properly care for the inmates (our patients) in the proper way but after all the cutbacks and the long hours it takes a toll on your health. The prison population is a specialized group for health care workers and you see and learn a lot in a short amount of time, it can be very interesting and educational! I was trying to stay for the benefits but just couldn't take it anymore and they lost me and a lot of other good nurses. I'm now utilizing my skills elsewhere and very happy!

Anonymous said...

The complimentary PDF link above provided by Grits, indicates that as of Sept. 2010 - *86 properties

Total: 121,462.28 acres


And that's just an estimate of the land's value back then. Believe it or not, there are great big ass buildings and tons of inventories located on what might as-well be a gazillion acres. With some of it being leased out for agriculture and ranch use, can anyone guess where the proceeds go?

I have a feeling there’s oil & natural gas fields under some of the ‘thousands’ of acres?

Anonymous said...

I agree. I'm a fiscal conservative and believe we must close both units down and move the inmates to other units. I have done my research and know there is plenty of bed space to house the inmates from Dawson and Mineral Wells if they are closed. It makes no sense to keep the facilities open unless you are playing up to your local special interest groups. Republicans currently standing in the way will have to make some tough decisions. Their character will be tested and their credibility will suffer if they don't make the honorable choice and stay true to their values of conservatism. It's not popular to make the tough choices but this is no time for popularity contests. These two prisons DO NOT save money. Keeping them open and the cost of maintaining them with utilities, maintenance,staffing, benefits, salaries, etc. It's just good use of taxpayer money to move the inmates to prisons who have open bed space and combine those consumption costs.

Anonymous said...

I like your freedom to post and you.