A 102 year old prison will soon be closed, marking the first time the state of Texas has shut down such a facility and signaling a shift in priorities being seen across the state and the entire country. Out of all places to close a prison, Texas would be the last. But the Central Unit at Sugar Land plans to be empty by the end of the month.
The prison was made famous by the folk song “Midnight Special”, written by singer Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter during the 1920s. The song referred to a train shining its light into a jail cell, alluding to the private rail line that crosses through the prison grounds, a rail that may cause issues when the state sells the land.
Just a few months ago the prison had 900 inmates and now it’s down to 80 as the state works to empty it. The age of the facility, combined with financial concerns, and a significant drop in inmate numbers statewide all contributed to the decision to shut the facility down.
Convict numbers, according to the American Statesman, are at the lowest rate in decades. Statewide the crime rate is at its lowest since 1973, a significant achievement. Similar drops in crime have been seen across the country with many theories as to why.
Also, there has been some shift away from the tough-on-crime mentality that has cemented Texas as the prison capital of the country. The perfect storm of low crime and lack of money has forced some lawmakers to reexamine their heavy handed views in favor of rehabilitation and community supervision. Republicans and Democrats alike have moved toward a new attitude in sentencing and punishment.
House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, a Republican and the “architect” of these changes says “From where Texas was just a few short years ago, this is huge.”
But the Sugar Land Central Unit isn’t the only institution that’s experiencing a shift. Three youth facilities have recently been emptied, the first three state owned youth facilities to be closed. Again, the closures are due to budget downsizing and a shift in thinking. The Texas Youth Commission will be merged into the new Texas Department of Juvenile Justice next year and with it will come a focus on community corrections and alternatives to incarceration.
A low crime rate and decreases in prison capacities due to closures won’t immediately affect those penalties being meted out in court, however. Unless legislative changes are made, courtroom justice will remain swift and sometimes severe, something those charged with crimes know all too well.
When you are facing criminal charges in Texas, whether for drugs or assault, you must be prepared for the worst case scenario but hopeful for the best. A local criminal defense lawyer can help ensure you get the best results possible on your day in court, potentially avoiding the worst penalties.
If you are facing charges, contact our Texas defense lawyers today to speak with an attorney about your case.