Texas Department of Criminal Justice officials, warning that a $214 million cut in their proposed budget could force the layoffs of up to 1,200 guards and reduce key services, may consider closing additional prisons, the Houston Chronicle reports. The agency’s governing board approved the shutdown of a 450-bed lockup for parole violators across from Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston as a way to help make up for a 4-percent budget reduction mandated by state leaders. Bryan Collier, executive director of the corrections system, said that if legislative leaders cannot be convinced to exempt his agency from the mandate, layoffs of guards remain a possibility, along with reductions in convict health care, meals, as well as prison and parole operations. The agency has just over 2,000 vacancies among its 25,000-plus correctional officer positions.
Operating the nation’s largest state prison system, Texas has 109 prisons and jails that house 147,000 convicts, with a budget of more than $3 billion a year. In the past five years, Texas’ convict population has dropped by about 9,000 prisoners as sentencing reforms and ramped-up treatment programs have cut recidivism and helped keep crime rates low. Because of that declining population, Texas has thousands of empty beds in its prisons. State prisons are operating about 2 percent below capacity, with another 2,500 beds mothballed because of a chronic shortage of guards.