As Texas prisons struggle with an acute shortage of guards, two legislative leaders called for a review of whether thousands of convicts who have been approved for parole but still are awaiting release could be let go to ease the crisis, reports the Austin American-Statesman. As many as 11,000 convicts could be good candidates for hastened releases from Texas’ understaffed prisons, said Sen. John Whitmire and Rep. Jerry Madden, who head legislative committees that oversee prisons. Thousands of inmates would already be on parole but for paperwork delays or a lack of enough treatment programs, which lawmakers last spring ordered drastically expanded.
Legislative analysts said a pay hike that correctional officers are seeking is not possible because it could cost upward of $500 million, a big-ticket item not in the state budget. “In my judgment, we have thousands of people locked up who don’t need to be there,” said Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. In the past, suggestions of speeding up releases have triggered criticism from prosecutors and victims’ groups who insist that freeing thousands of convicts is not the best way to address prison problems. Two decades ago, such a decision resulted in a spike in violent crime in Houston and other areas.