The federal government announced that it's phasing out its use of privately run prisons and now, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) is warning that it too could close prisons, lay off 1,200 employees and stop providing certain inmate services – but not because of privatization.
Mike Ward, Austin bureau chief for the Houston Chronicle, says, like other states, Texas has fewer inmates now than in recent years.
"The crime rate has dropped. Rehabilitation and treatment programs have been highly successful," he says. "There's about 8 to 10,000 fewer inmates than there were five years ago."
The state budget is smaller, in part because of lower sales taxes, so the governor has asked agencies to cut 4 percent from their annual budgets. TDCJ has proposed cutting an intermediate sanction facility, known as an ISF, for parole violators in downtown Houston.
"That's about 400 and some jobs right there," he says, "but it's a private vendor. They're going to combine it at a state-owned facility in Houston."
TDCJ has acknowledged they're looking at closing prisons in Texas, Ward says, "Because prisons in Texas right now are operating well below their capacity."
For well over a century, Texas didn't close any prisons, Ward says. But in the past few years, the state has closed three prisons. "When you close prisons, somebody gets laid off," he says. "...State facilities can move inmates and can move employees to other prisons. The private prisons, it's another matter."
At closed private facilities, those employees usually find work in other sectors, like oil and gas. The Texas correctional union likely won't be the most vocal group in opposition to closing, Ward says. "They have a voice, but (it's) not as strong as in other states," Ward says. "The biggest issue is with local politicians and local legislators who are going to fight closures."
Post by Hannah McBride.