Texas has the largest prison population in the nation and is home to more for-profit prisons than any other state. Lock-up rates are also on a steady decline in our state, creating an opportune moment to permanently shift the tide on incarceration trends in Texas. We anchor a statewide coalition that uses grassroots organizing, legislative advocacy, and public education to strategically target private prisons for closure. During the 2013 legislative session we successfully closed two private prisons in Texas!
Texas Prison Closures Campaign
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.” Read more about Legislature Plans to Close Four Correctional Facilities. Will They Become Immigrant Detention Centers?
Watch a brief excerpt from our vigil for those who died locked up in Texas prisons during 2016. See more pictures and videos on our Facebook as well. Read more about Candlelight Vigil for Texas Prison Closure
WHEN: 6:30pm, Thursday, March 23, 2017
WHERE: Texas State Capitol, South Steps
WHO: Formerly incarcerated people and their loved ones; performances by Tree G, Bavu Blakes, Terry G. Thompson, Boss Street Band, and Selah Vie.
Facebook event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/399313810425536/ Read more about Candlelight Vigil at Texas Capitol Honors Those Who have Died in Texas Prisons
Today marks the first day of the 85th Texas Legislature, and we're gearing up for a fight. We are ready to stand with those who have felt the devastation of our mass incarceration crisis first hand. We will fight to protect immigrants and keep families together. And, on February 1, 2017 criminal justice and immigration groups from around the state will converge in Austin for a march, rally, art exhbit and visits to legislators to speak boldly about what we are fighting for. We hope that you'll join us. Read more about What we're fighting for at the Texas Legislature
A group of lawmakers, including Texas’ senators, have asked the Bureau of Prisons to put the brakes on a contract for 3,600 beds in private detention facilities that could result in closures of prisons in Texas.
They’re asking the Obama administration to hold off on granting the contract, which at one time was slated for more than 10,000 beds in seven states, including Texas. That number was reduced drastically this year after the Justice Department announced it would begin phasing out its use of private prison operators.
The contract, which could be shared by several companies, would have been a renewal of existing agreements to operate prisons for the bureau. The reduced contract could result in the closure of some facilities.
The letter was hailed by private prison company GEO Group, which employs about 1,500 people in Texas through BOP contracts, but was criticized by an Austin-based advocacy group as the latest effort to delay the contract until President-elect Donald Trump takes office.
Bob Libal, the executive director of the Austin-based advocacy group Grassroots Leadership, which has opposed private prisons, said the company is likely to lose its challenge. He wondered if the letter and the protest by GEO are part of a “stalling technique” in hopes that a Trump administration will award larger contracts. The Justice Department’s decision to phase out private prisons was based not just on the problems identified but a declining inmate population, Libal said.
“They’re trying to thwart the common-sense move that, if you don’t need prison beds, you don’t sign contracts with substandard prisons to continue to operate them,” he said. Read more about Texas senators to Bureau of Prisons: Delay contract with private operators
By Alejandro Caceres and Jorge Antonio Renaud
A recent Statesman editorial (Wanted: Sheriff who keeps Austin out of Legislature crosshairs, Sept. 24) about the race for Travis County Sheriff suggested that we cannot have both criminal justice reforms and an end to deportations in Travis County. We couldn’t disagree more. We see everyday why you cannot stack a broken immigration system on top of a broken criminal justice system and expect a more just world. Read more about Incoming sheriff can tackle criminal justice reform while stopping deportations
News of the escape raised concerns from criminal justice advocates and civil rights advocates.
The incident "seems to encapsulate all of problems of turning a jail over to a for-profit prison corporation," said Bob Libal, Executive Director Grassroots Leadership, an Austin-based civil-rights organization and an outspoken opponent of the private prison industry. "Including incentivizing high rates of incarceration, staffing at a very low level to mazimize profits, which lead to operational outcomes like you've seen - failed inspections and escapes. These things are all preventable, but symptomatic of for-profit prison corporations operating jails as for-profit and not for rehabilitation or public safety, frankly." Read more about Inmate still on lam after escape from Liberty County Jail
A growing movement to help fair hiring practices across the country is getting support in the form of protest. Grassroots Leadership is calling for President Obama to enact an executive order to "ban the box." That would get rid of a question at the front of job applications asking if you've ever been convicted of a crime. Some say that puts an unfair prejudice in employers' minds before they've even had the chance to look at an application.
Lauren Johnson with Grassroots Leadership said, "banning the box from the front of an application will not stop a business from doing a background check and it will not stop them from choosing the candidates that they're going to hire. But it is going to increase their talent pool and let them choose somebody based on their abilities and
qualifications to do the job." Tuesday's protest was held outside Athena Manufacturing in North Travis County. The protestors say companies like Athena keep 70 million people from getting meaningful employment. Read more about "Ban the Box" supporters target Austin businesses
Grassroots Leadership, a Texas-based national organization working to end prison profiteering and reduce reliance on criminalization and detention, hailed the legislation as "a major stride toward a justice system that is obliged to put human beings over private interests."
"As long as there are corporate financial incentives for locking people up and keeping them behind bars, reforming drug laws and other sentencing policies will produce limited results for meaningfully decreasing the astronomical rate of incarceration in this country," said Kymberlie Quong Charles, criminal justice programs director for Grassroots Leadership. Read more about 'Justice Is Not For Sale': Bernie Sanders Leads Charge Against For-Profit Prisons
Outside, more than 100 activists from half a dozen organizations were protesting the Boca Raton firm. Members of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, Dream Defenders, Enlace International, SEIU-Florida and the Palm Beach Environmental Coalition were on hand, as was Texas-based Grassroots Leadership, which has worked with Karnes facility immigrants.
Protesters blasted the billion-dollar company’s fundamental business, which hinges on a daily payment rate for every prisoner or immigrant it houses. Read more about Hunger strike? What hunger strike? GEO asks as protests mark meeting