While no one keeps an exact count on the number of private prison facilities in Texas, the six largest operators, the Geo Group, Corrections Corp. of America, LaSalle, Emerald, MTC and CEC operate more than 40 facilities containing about 50,000 beds, according to the San Antonio Express-News.
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which runs the state prison system, has about 150,000 beds. County jails have about 95,000 beds, many often empty.
Texas had some of the nation’s worst overcrowding 30 years ago. In the 1980s, the state prison system had fewer than 40,000 beds and was under a federal court order not to exceed 95 percent occupancy.
The private prison boon in Texas is over. And as the public sector’s need for private prison beds has diminished, the tally of failing prisons in Texas is increasing, with some already vacant for years.
The bust is evident on a rural tour of the state, where more than a dozen once-profitable facilities have failed. At least seven of them, which together borrowed nearly $200 million, are in arrears on bond payments, figures from Municipal Market Analytics, a bond-research firm, show.
In Polk, Newton, Dickens, Jones, Palo Pinto, Limestone, Lamb, Dallas, Jefferson and Burnet Counties, former private prisons either are empty, losing money or are being converted to other uses, county officials say.
In June 1995, Texas jails had 64,000 beds, and were operating at 80 percent capacity, with 7,775 beds available. In June 2015, having added nearly 30,000 beds, they were operating at 70 percent capacity, and had 19,870 available beds.
The number of federal and contract prisoners in county jails has declined in recent years, due in part to changes in federal policy.
Where in 2000, the U.S. Border Patrol apprehended 1.67 million people, by 2014 the figure had dropped to fewer than 487,000, and has stayed low since. Detentions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement also recently have dipped after a longtime rise.
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