Texas looking into shuttering state prisons

Rep. Jim McReynolds
Rep. Jim McReynolds

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - By Morgan Thomas - email

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - In Texas these days, there are less prisoners and more probationers.

That's because the direction of the Texas Criminal Justice System shifted about six years ago, away from prison time and a move toward building up programs like probation and parole.

"We created a lot of treatment beds, we created intermediate sanction facilities, we have created half way houses for when people are released," state Rep. Jim McReynolds said.

Angelina County's probation office has seen the success of the shift firsthand. Rodney Thompson, the county's director, says dealing with non-violent offenders differently changes lives and saves money.

"We want them in the community, working and paying their taxes instead of all the other tax paying citizens having to pay for them to be in prison," Thompson said.

As the state has pulled away from prison time and pushed toward probation, Angelina County's office sees 200 to 300 probationers walk through their doors everyday.

The changes have been so successful that 2,000 prison beds now sit empty. The option of closing a prison could be the answer to trimming the budget. But, could have a lasting economic impact.

"First of all many of them are in rural Texas," McReynolds said. "That's jobs in rural Texas."

That's something McReynolds will keep in mind when he heads into next year's legislative session. However, staying the course will definitely save the state money. Each inmate in prison costs almost $50 a day, while probation and parole averages around $2.50 a day.

"The motto of my corrections committee is we want to promote public safety, redeem lives and save taxpayers money and that's what we're doing here in Texas," McReynolds said.

Its too soon to say if closing a prison could happen, says McReynolds. But whatever they decide, he promises public safety will not be compromised.

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