More than 7,300 criminal justice employees would have to be laid off if Texas’ corrections agency is required to cut its spending by 15 percent, reports the Austin American-Statesman. Officials warned that such a move could force the closure of several prisons and endanger public safety. The prediction came as state corrections officials made public their budget request for 2012-13. The proposal asks for $6 billion and holds the line on much new spending, but it includes more than $720 million to fund already-promised pay raises for correctional and parole officers, and escalating costs of medical care for prisoners, among other items.
State criminal justice director Brad Livingston and Austin businessman Oliver Bell, chairman of the prison system’s governing board, made it clear that they hope to justify an exemption from budget cuts of as much as 15 percent over current spending. Texas is facing an $18 billion revenue shortfall in 2012-13, and state leaders have asked agencies to prepare budget requests that are 10 percent below current spending. Last spring, state leaders ordered most agencies to prepare spending cuts of 5 percent in the current budget, but the criminal justice agency was exempted from the requirement and ended up cutting less than 1 percent. Texas is joining a list of states that find themselves hard pressed to continue pay for growing corrections programs as their state revenues plummet. Some states have closed prisons. Others have dropped treatment and rehabilitation programs. Others, such as California, have moved to free thousands of prisoners early. Texas operates the second-largest prison system in the country.