More than a decade after expanding Texas’ prison system into one of the largest in the world, some state leaders are openly discussing the possibility of what was once politically unthinkable: closing or mothballing entire prisons, reports the Austin American-Statesman. Faced with a projected state budget shortfall of $10 billion or more and a Monday deadline for state agencies to come up with cuts amounting to 5 percent of their budgets, prison officials are faced with looking for perhaps as much as $300 million in cuts.
Key Senate and House leaders say they might seek to have public safety agencies exempted from the proposed cuts, but they agree that closing lockups could be on the horizon. It’s unclear whether Texas has ever closed an entire prison, though parts of two were mothballed – or temporarily closed – several years ago due to a guard shortage. At least 35 correctional centers in other states have been closed since the recession began in 2008 and state and county government budgets began sliding into red ink. “Closing prisons? It’s absolutely on the table,” said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jim McReynolds. “As tight as our budget situation looks, we cannot unravel the fledgling system of diversion and treatment programs that are paying big dividends now for the states. And there’s only one other place to look – prison operations.”