Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Texas prison boom coming to painful end

A prison in Anson, a west Texas town of about 2,300 people built in 2009, sits empty according to the Austin American-Statesman.  The facility was to house 1,100 state convicts who never arrived, the $35 million lockup sits empty at the edge of the town. Its promise of creating 195 jobs and a $5 million annual boost to the local economy never materailized.
Research by the American-Statesman shows, the situation is increasingly common in Texas and across the country because of declining crime rates, government budget cuts and increased use of treatment programs that have deflated a 20-year boom in building jails and prisons.
Although having fewer people locked up should be good news for Texas taxpayers, as the associated costs of Lone Star justice go down, the trend is drawing few cheers in Jones County and other places where taxes are going up to pay for the empty lockups.
While counties mostly operate jails, which house pre-trial prisoners and those serving time for minor offenses, more than a dozen counties in Texas have for years housed state prison convicts — either in their county jails or in prison-like lockups built with the help of private firms.
The American-Statesman also found, more than 30,000 of the state's 93,000 county beds currently sit empty — both at county jails and at the ones built with county-private partnerships, like Anson, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
In Littlefield, northwest of Lubbock, a $10 million, 373-bed prison has sat empty for two years — costing local taxpayers $65,000 a month to pay the outstanding loan.
More than 1,400 jail beds in Angelina, Newton and Dickens counties in East Texas stand vacant as well, and one in Jefferson County reopened only recently — at just a fraction of its former population.
In Falls County, about an hour's drive northeast of Austin, officials are scrambling to fill beds in a county-built private prison after the private company announced it was pulling out.
Outside Waco, an 833-bed, $49 million prison sits less than half full — the same problem according to the American-Statesman.

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