DALLAS (AP) — A Texas official says three of the four prison facilities set for closure under the state's budget have ceased operations, and that the fourth will be closed long before the September deadline.
Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark told The Dallas Morning News (http://bit.ly/2uqTVRt ) that once the fourth closes, Texas will have shuttered eight prison facilities in six years.
Over that time, the state's inmate population has also declined, from 156,000 in 2011 to 146,000 now.
Prison staff will be offered jobs at other facilities in a move that will also help alleviate staff shortages at some rural prisons, Clark said. Inmates will continue to be transferred to other facilities, he said.
Criminal justice reform advocates, agency officials and lawmakers said the closures are possible because of falling crime rates and legislative efforts to reduce the number of people who spend time behind bars.
Closing the four units means eliminating more than 2,000 prison beds. Lawmakers anticipate the closures will save about $49.5 million.
It's unclear whether the trend of shuttering facilities will continue since lawmakers didn't approve proposals this year to reduce drug offense penalties and to keep 17-year-olds in the juvenile justice system instead of going to adult prisons. Criminal justice reform advocates said these measures would help the prison population continue to decline.
Rep. James White, R-Hillster, chairman of the House Corrections Committee, said he's confident the downward prison population trend will continue.
"If we can keep the economy growing, if we can make sure we're giving people at least adequate-type educational opportunities, there's no reason why we can't continue this trend," he said.
Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com