Just a few months ago, we blogged about a Texas first: the closing of Sugar Land’s Central Unit prison. But while that closure was initially seen as something to celebrate—signaling a shift away from mass incarceration—Texas was quietly adding prison beds to existing facilities, virtually erasing any positive impact of the closed facility.
The old facility had 1,000 beds that were eliminated from the total bed count of the Texas Department of Corrections. But now, Texas has more than 2,000 beds more than it did just a year ago. So, what good did the closure do? In reality, it was purely fiscal.
It’s all about saving money these days and while we often see positive criminal justice reform pushed on the basis of saving money, the Texas justice system keeps adding more and more convicts to the mix. Unless lawmakers are willing to change how the machine works, they will continue to funnel inmates into a system that simply can’t afford them.
“At some point, because of the costs, we have to recognize that we don’t need to waste one dollar incarcerating one person that doesn’t really need to be behind bars,” says Senator John Whitmore (D-Houston).
According to the American Statesman, 35% of Texas inmates are serving time for nonviolent offenses. In order to significantly impact the amount of money needed to keep the system running, we have to reduce the amount of people in prison. Obviously, the smartest way to do this would be to reduce penalties for nonviolent offenses or to “limit local judges’ discretion to mete out long prison sentences for nonviolent crimes.”
Still, no one wants to seem soft on crime and the chances of such broad changes are pretty slim.
So far in an effort to save money after $60 million was taken from prison spending this year, many changes have been made, none of which affect the number of people behind bars.
- Inmates pay $100/year for medical care, up from $3 per visit
- 200 Medical workers lost their jobs as hours were cut in prison clinics
- Two meals per day are served on weekends and dessert is only provided once per week
- Rehabilitation and treatment programs have been siginificantly downsized
- More than 1,500 employees have been laid off
- Probation and Parole officers have higher than ever caseloads
- Manufacturing plants within prisons have been closed
So rather than impacting the cause of the spending (the number of inmates) we are reducing the quality of the incarceration experience. In other words, we are making prison time harder—something “tough on crime” folks would love to hear even though it is shown to increase recidivism and border on unethical.
Until lawmakers get the courage to stand up for what works (rehabilitation and community supervision for nonviolent offenders), we will likely see similar cuts in the future. Perhaps they will get rid of heat and air conditioning next. It’s fairly certain that you won’t see local judges spare convicts a prison sentence of their own accord in order to help with the issue.
So, if you are facing criminal charges, you can’t bank on a lenient judge or significant changes to sentencing laws. Instead, you have to depend on a criminal lawyer and the laws that are currently in place. Contact our offices today if you are facing charges. We may be able to help.