Texas Pays for Private Prisons while Thousands of Beds in Public Prisons are Empty

Sunday, February 10, 2013
Damon Hininger, President and CEO of CCA

Thousands of beds sit empty in Texas state prisons, while the state pays $123 million a year to lease beds from private prisons, including Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the biggest of the private prison operators. Specifically, there are as many as 10,000 empty beds in Texas’s 111 state prisons, and hundreds of empty slots at the state’s six detention centers for teens, according to Texas state Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire (D-Houston).


The new data come on top of last spring’s investigation by the Austin American-Statesman, which revealed that more than 30,000 of the state’s 93,000 county jail beds were vacant because of “declining crime rates, government budget cuts and increased use of treatment programs” which “deflated a 20-year boom in building jails and prisons.” Many Texas counties spent millions to build large jails to house not only prisoners awaiting trial, but also convicted state inmates serving time.


“We’re spending millions of dollars to maintain bricks and mortar we don’t need,” complained Whitmire. “We’ve got to quit, once and for all, running these facilities just because they’re there for economic development purposes,” Whitmire said. “We need to use taxpayers’ money to fight crime, on the public safety priorities of this state, rather than just on bricks and mortar that in some cases we don’t need.”


Whitmire asked pointed questions at a legislative hearing about why Texas is leasing thousands of prison beds from private prisons while state facilities sit empty. He wants to close two facilities run by CCA under contract: the 2,100-bed Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility and the 2,200-bed Dawson State Jail in Dallas.


“It would seem wise to get out of the private-lease beds as the contracts come up for renewal,” Whitmire argued, although adult corrections chief Brad Livingston claimed only 4,600 state beds were empty, and that all empty beds can’t be filled because prison officials need excess capacity to properly manage convict populations. Both Livingston and juvenile corrections chief Mike Griffiths argued that their agencies need more money to meet a variety of needs, including additional hiring, building repair and vehicle purchases.

-Matt Bewig


To Learn More:

Senators to State Corrections Officials: Tighten your Belts (by Mike Ward, Austin American-Statesman)

Wanted: Criminals to Fill Empty Prisons (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Private Prison Industry Helped Create Anti-Immigrant Law in Arizona (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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