Significant changes in how Texas operates its prisons and punishes nonviolent, low-level felons are being proposed today in a move that supporters say could save tens of millions of additional dollars for a cash-strapped state budget, the Austin American-Statesman reports. Included is a plan to expand the use of “shock probation” sentences with limited prison time, to charge imprisoned felons more for their medical care, to study hiring additional private companies to run state jails and transport convicts between prisons, to consider releasing some critically ill convicts to save on medical bills, and to begin selling over-the-counter medications to convicts rather than giving them away.
A fiscal note on the proposed changes says they could save nearly $13.5 million in two years. House leaders said they expect that the savings could be at least twice that. “We think this is a way to save money, lots of money, without endangering public safety,” said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden. “The biggest piece of this is that instead of sending low-level probation violators to prison to finish their sentence, which can be years, we will send them to prison for up to a year as shock probation.” Currently, lawbreakers who violate the terms of their community probation are sent to a state prison, where they can be held for years awaiting parole. According to an internal prison system report, the average time in prison for those inmates is 4.7 years.