The lean, mean budgets proposed by the Texas House and Senate don’t do much to inspire optimism about the coming two-year cycle. But opponents of mass incarceration have found some solace in funding cuts.
Both chambers propose closing four state correctional facilities this session — a cost-cutting measure that criminal justice reformers say is worth celebrating.
“This is extremely exciting,” said Holly Kirby, criminal justice programs director at Grassroots Leadership, an Austin nonprofit that fights mass incarceration. “We have far too many prisons in Texas, so this is definitely a step in the right direction.”
On the chopping block are Williamson County’s Bartlett State Jail, Wise County’s Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, Mitchell County’s Dick Ware Transfer Facility and Terry County’s West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility. Altogether,the facilities cost the state $51.2 million every two years and hold 1,755 inmates, according to officials with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ).
The proposed prison closures aren’t yet final. The House and Senate still have to reconcile the differences in their budgets, and Governor Greg Abbott has to approve whatever compromise the chambers reach. Still, shuttering these facilities seems likely.
It’s not hard to see why the House and Senate both suggest closing a few prisons. The state is in toughfiscal straits, and it stands to save hundreds of millions in the years to come by closing the four facilities, which aren’t needed to the extent they once were. Each of the four facilities is operating at reduced capacity, according to TDCJ Executive Director Bryan Collier. Altogether, the four units the Legislature is considering for closure can hold more than 2,000 inmates; they’re currently more than 250 prisoners shy of capacity.
If the recommended closures clear the Legislature, the state will maintain ownership of its two prisons should it need them again, Collier said. CoreCivic and the City of Brownfield, on the other hand, are free to sell their facilities or find new prisoners. That worries Kirby and other policy advocates, who fear they could be used forimmigrant detention.
“I think it’s important that we keep a close eye on how these facilities might be repurposed,” Kirby said. “It’s common practice for privately owned facilities to get used for other populations of prisoners, like immigrants, and it’s particularly concerning in the current political climate, with talk of expanding detention.”