Texas prisons are running out of beds more quickly than expected and may need to lease space in county jails by March, the Houston Chronicle reports. There is no money to pay the jails, meaning that prison officials may ask lawmakers for an emergency appropriation. The crowding crisis comes 2 1/2 years after the state ended 30 years of federal control with the dismissal of a prison-reform lawsuit. State legislators are under a judge’s order to put billions of dollars in new funding into public education. As of Sunday, the prison system held 150,575 inmates, 97.3 percent of capacity.
“The fear is that the system itself, like it did in the 1980s, crumbles under the pressure,” said Don Lee of the Conference of Urban Counties. “The prison system has to start releasing people early, jails are constantly overcrowded, and crime goes up.” Crowding in the 1980s led to a public outcry over the release of violent criminals and a lawsuit by counties over state inmates left for years in county jails. In the early 1990s, the state started a prison-building boom that tripled capacity.