In the latest sign that Texas’ budget woes could prove tougher than expected, a new study reported by the Austin American-Statesman warns that the state could face a shortage of as many as 12,000 prison beds within two years if it whacks corrections programs as planned. Cuts of up to $600 million over the next two years would hobble rehabilitation, probation, and treatment programs that have saved taxpayers almost that much in the past four years, the report said, and the resulting flood of Texans that would be sent to prison would quickly overwhelm the current capacity of state-run lockups.
“The new costs, the big costs, that Texas is looking at will be for new prisons, more capacity,” said Tony Fabelo , a national criminal justice consultant who authored an updated projection of Texas’ prison needs presented to the Senate Criminal Justice Committee yesterday. “That’s the headache that we avoided four years ago with a system that’s working well, so far. But the projected cuts and growth are going to change that.” Senate and House leaders reacted with surprise at the whopping numbers, which come after they asked prison officials to begin cutting treatment and rehabilitation programs to help the state meet a projected budget shortfall of as much as $27 billion in 2012-13.