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Texas Republicans Lobby to Keep Prisons Open, Purchase New One Despite Declining Prison Population

A group of Republican House members is pushing to keep open three prisons, one which is empty.

At issues is the Mineral Wells and Dallas facilities.  The state currently has 12,000 empty prison beds and a declining prison population.  Separately, the group of Republicans is pushing to purchase a 1,100-bed facility located in Jones County the state encouraged the county to build before the prison population started declining.

Supporters of the moves are citing extenuating circumstances such as jobs, economic development, contingency planning, and state contractual obligations.  

Critics say none of those issues should trump the bottom line for taxpayers.

House Democrat John Whitmire and chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee says the proposed moves “Just make no sense.”

State Rep. Susan King who represents Jones County has pushed for the purchase.  “This was an agreement the state made and it was broken.”  Jones County intensely lobbied lawmakers to build the facility with the expectation that the state would send prisoners there.  However, the state cancelled the contract in 2010 before the first prisoner arrived.

Leaving the building vacant still cost taxpayers money.  In 2007, a six-story Veterans Administration hospital near Waco was given to the prison system.  Today, the building is still unused but it cost more than $1.5 million to maintain and there are no plans to open the facility.

For Parker and other House leaders, the issue isn’t about spending money on prisons the state doesn’t need right now, but on doing the right thing. 

“The people in the House who are for buying a prison we don’t need, and are for keeping two existing prisons open that we don’t need, are the same tea party, fiscal conservatives who campaigned for less government and cutting wasteful spending,” Whitmire said. 

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