Texas prisons could soon overflow as courts continue to sentence offenders directly to prison, says the Houston Chronicle. Analysts at the Legislative Budget Board, which advises lawmakers, say the 150,000-bed prison system will exceed its operating capacity next year. If current trends continue, the prisons would house 500 too many inmates by late summer 2005 and 5,000 too many by 2008, the report said. “Those are conservative numbers. I think it’s even quicker than the report says, which means each legislator and the statewide leadership need to be aware of this,” said Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee. The shift back to rapidly filling prisons follows a decade of prison expansion and the tripling of the system’s size.
Whitmire, who favors early release of nonviolent prisoners not posing a threat to the public, will hold hearings this summer. He cites foreign nationals who could be deported, nonviolent women serving five-year terms, and terminally ill inmates in prison geriatric wards. “I think there are many alternatives to incarceration for certain profile inmates that we are not using,” he said. “It may be electronic monitoring, halfway houses, or it could be probation.” Gov. Rick Perry is considering leasing county jail space at the onset and building more prisons in the longer term, said a spokesman.