For years, most Texas prisoners have been taken to Huntsville when they complete their sentences before being discharged. The Austin American-Statesman said officials are considering a plan to release them at regional prisons, a historic policy shift that could save money and thousands of miles of crisscrossing bus rides across the state. At a time when fuel prices are squeezing the state budget, officials at the prisons agency concede the change could save big money. The Texas criminal justice department has budgeted $11 million for fuel for fiscal year 2008, and officials already expect they’ll spend at least $16 million.
Now, most freedom-bound convicts travel to the vintage, high-walled Huntsville Unit – the state’s oldest prison – where they are processed out and given $100 and a voucher good for a bus ride to anywhere in Texas. Many go to nearby Houston, in what at times has been a controversial policy when recent releases commit new crimes. “Taking everybody back to Huntsville to release them is one of the nuttiest policies I’ve ever heard of, and one that I’ve been trying to change for years and years,” said Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee. Texas operates 106 state prisons and state jails that house 156,000 convicts. It is the second largest prison system in the U.S.