View Full Version : Texas Prisons are full to the brim

02-19-2003, 07:20 PM
Texas prisons are full to the brim

By Peggy Fikac
Chief, Express-News Austin Bureau

AUSTIN An unexpected increase in inmate admissions is pushing Texas' prison system to capacity, prompting officials to consider options including abbreviated drug treatment programs, renting county jail space and revising parole procedures.
"For all intents and purposes, we are at capacity," said House Corrections Committee Chairman Ray Allen, R-Grand Prairie. "We're looking at ways to, in the short term, meet our capacity needs without having any kind of dramatic negative impact on the system or without increasing any threat to the public."

Among other options, Allen suggested the possibility of releasing some inmates who are seriously ill even in comas to supervised parole in hospitals.

He also called for a look at parole-eligible Mexican nationals who have been convicted of non-violent offenses and are subject to deportation upon release.

The prison system can accommodate 151,470 inmates, but its operational capacity is 97.5 percent about 147,700 because of the need for flexibility in moving inmates, officials said.

Tuesday the population was 147,500, prison spokesman Larry Todd said.

Admissions have increased faster than projected, particularly in recent months, Tony Fabelo, executive director of the Criminal Justice Policy Council, told the corrections panel Tuesday.

The average number of monthly admissions was projected to be 5,276 for this fiscal year, but the average instead has been 5,668.

Todd and Gerald Garrett, chairman of the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, said officials are looking at ways to responsibly handle the flood of inmates.

"We're responding. We're not flinging open the back doors. We're not ready to go back to the revolving door of the '80s and '90s," Garrett said.

The problem is complicated by a multibillion-dollar state revenue shortfall through fiscal year 2005. State agencies are being asked to trim spending as a way to avoid new taxes.

The prison system isn't exempt from budget cuts, said Kathy Walt, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry. Still, she emphasized a commitment to safety.

"The governor's not going to support or recommend anything that would endanger public safety," she said.

Among possibilities mentioned by officials for freeing up space:

Accelerating by six to eight weeks the release of inmates who have been approved for parole.

Shortening substance-abuse treatment programs from nine months to six months, freeing up 2,000 prison beds.

Renting space in county jails.

Converting a Texas Youth Commission unit in Bryan, once used for adult prisoners, back into a facility for adult inmates.

Examining the cases of thousands of Mexican nationals in Texas prisons to identify those convicted of minor drug offenses or non-violent property crimes who are parole-eligible and under deportation orders.

Examining the placement of inmates who are seriously ill and require costly medical care that would be partly paid by Medicare or Medicaid if they were released to medically recommended, intensive supervision.

Allen said he has been told there are as many as a dozen inmates who are "in a persistent vegetative state" and whose care costs roughly $400,000 annually.

"I'm not sure why we can't parole a guy in a coma and put him in a hospital" or nursing home facility that contracts solely to serve inmates, under electronic monitor, Allen said.

It has been roughly a decade since the prison system was at full capacity, before the construction boom of the mid-1990s, Allen said.

He said of the higher-than-predicted prison sentencing, "I presume there were more arrests and more convictions."

State criminal justice officials and lawmakers "have zero control over how many people commit crimes," Allen said.

"Criminals kind of make that decision for us."

The Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas called on lawmakers to keep their focus on public safety.

"We are here to remind our elected leaders to keep the bad guys in jail," said Ron DeLord, CLEAT president. "We represent the street officers who apprehended these criminals, and our officers work hard to protect the safety of the citizens of Texas.

"The citizens and law enforcement officers agree these people were sent to prison and that is where they need to stay."

W. Gardner Selby of the Express-News Austin Bureau contributed to this report.

02-20-2003, 06:40 AM

02-20-2003, 06:52 AM
This is getting to be a problem everywhere. The lock 'em up mentality is getting very expensive.

I liked the quote by a Kentucky politician to the effect that "we have more law and order than we can afford right now."

This puts the tough guys in a bad spot. They have to either raise taxes, cut spending on schools or release criminals. Oh well, we do spend too much schools, don't we?

02-20-2003, 08:00 AM
Good grief. They will have to do something. "I'm not sure why we can't parole a guy in a coma and put him in a hospital" or nursing home facility that contracts solely to serve inmates, under electronic monitor, Allen said."
I could not help but think to myself, they are going to put a monitor on them, then what? put them back in If and when they come out of a coma? Not mentioning, they need to worry about more on these ridiculous sentencing guide lines, that alone alone will cut the budget some. THEY will not stop crime by holding someone longer then what their crime is. This problem is every where, not just TX. Look at CA. they have that three stricks law. Most are trying to fight it. It is all about the money, regardless if they admit that or not. The fedral Gov pays so much a year to house inmates. This whole thing makes me sick. I hope t his made sense,,lol i get so mad when i read this mess.