Could Cash-Strapped Texas Do The “Unthinkable”: Close Prisons?


Texas agencies must propose 10 percent spending cuts to the legislature. The Austin American-Statesman says a growing number of officials are suggesting the closure of a prison or two, a notion that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago. For decades, Texas focused on building more prisons in the name of public safety, tripling the size of the system in the 1990s alone. In recent years, the state has found that greatly expanded treatment and rehabilitation programs can reduce the number of people in prison – and save money.

“One in every 22 Texans are in the criminal justice system – on probation, on parole, in prison,” said state Rep. Jim McReynolds , who chairs the House Corrections Committee . “Because we invested in treatment and re-entry and rehabilitation programs starting several years ago, Texas is in a position to have those drive the discussion for the first time that I can remember, instead of just incarceration or building new prisons. That’s a big change from the past.” Whereas the average cost of keeping one felon in prison is about $47 a day, the cost of alternatives is much less. Probation costs an average of $1.24 a day; parole supervision is $3.74. Various community-supervision programs range from $5.56 to $47 or more, depending on the type of program and whether secure housing is provided.

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