Sunday, August 4, 2013

Texas closes two private prisons as inmate population dips

For only the second time in the state’s history, Texas lawmakers are closing inmate facilities to reduce bed capacity as the state’s prison population continues to drop, reported the Texas Tribune.

The decision by legislators this year to close two privately run jails,   Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility and Dawson State Jail in Dallas, operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) being met with very different reactions in the communities where the jails are situated.

Since 2011, Texas’ prison population has fallen to about 150,800 from more than 156,000, bringing the total of empty beds to about 12,000 statewide, said state Sen. John Whitmore, D-Houston, the chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. Improved diversion programs and alternatives to incarceration have fueled the downward trend, he added.

“The logical thing to do is to look to close facilities you don’t need,” Whitmire said.

Along with city officials, local lawmakers and lobbyists for the CCA also fought unsuccessfully to keep the Mineral Wells facility open. CCA called the decision to close it shortsighted.
With the state’s ever-increasing population there is sure to be a need for more prison beds in the future, reported CCA.

But Whitmire said he was confident that the state’s continued focus on rehabilitation and diversion programs would keep the prison population from expanding. Even if it did, he said, the Mineral Wells facility would be a poor choice to house inmates because of security concerns.

The jail, which was not built as a place to put inmates, has long had problems with contraband. At one point, Whitmire said, officials hung a net above one side of the facility to keep passers-by from tossing items over the fence.

Lawmakers said they were expecting to save nearly$97 million by closing the two facilities — money that Whitmire said could be more wisely spent on the criminal justice system.
“We’re running a good program,” he said, “but we still have some flaws we’ve got to fix.”
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