Texas prisons are packed, and state corrections officials want to build three new facilities. The Dallas Morning News reports that some traditionally tough-on-crime lawmakers appear ready to take a different approach – rehabilitation. Key legislators say they can meet a projected shortfall of 11,000 beds in 2011 by moving thousands of low-level or parole-ready inmates into supervised community programs and by bolstering substance-abuse programs to free up beds held by minor drug and alcohol offenders.
Texas prisons hold 151,000 inmates and are short 3,500 corrections officers. Adding prisons isn’t cost effective, some lawmakers say, and doesn’t get to the root of the problem. Said Sen. John Whitmire, who chairs the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, “We’re at a crossroads. There’s a strong consensus to do things differently, to continue being tough, but to be smart about inmates who need a different kind of treatment.” Corrections officials say that even with more community corrections and treatment programs, new penitentiaries are unavoidable. The state needs two new general-population prisons and another emphasizing alcohol treatment to house a combined 5,000 inmates, at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice says.