The Facts
  • Prisons cost Texas taxpayers $50.79 per inmate per day, amounting to $18,538 per year, which is below the national average.
  • Each new state prison bed costs more than $60,000 to build.
  • Probation costs $2.92 per day, of which the offenders pay $1.62 of that in fees, resulting in a taxpayer cost of $1.30 per day.
  • TDCJ’s budget increased from $793 million in 1990 to more than $3 billion in 2012.
  • Reinstitute mandatory supervision for most third degree drug possession offenders. This would save $26 million by automatically discharging third degree felony drug possession offenders on to parole supervision after completing half of their sentence with good behavior. Third degree drug possession involves between one and four grams of most controlled substances. Inmates serving time for drug dealing as well as those with prior violent, sexual, or felony property offenses would be ineligible. This policy change would give the Board of Pardons and Paroles more time to carefully scrutinize those parole candidates who have committed crimes against person and property while recognizing that the use of prison for long-term incapacitation should be prioritized for those who have harmed others.
  • Implement Senate Bill 1055, which was unanimously enacted in 2011 to incentivize lower costs and less recidivism. This measure authorizes counties to voluntarily enter into an agreement with the state to reduce prison commitments of low-level offenders whereby the community receives a share of the state’s savings on lower prison costs, partly based on the county’s performance in reducing probationers’ recidivism rate and increasing the share of probationers who are current on their victim restitution. A provision is needed in the next budget authorizing TDCJ to implement SB 1055 by reallocating to participating counties some of the savings from prison closures achieved through the implementation of the local commitment reduction plans described in the legislation. In 2010-the first fiscal year of Texas’ Juvenile Commitment Reduction Program-juvenile commitments to state lockups fell 36%, saving taxpayers at least $114 million, while juvenile crime continued to decline. SB 1055 provides that counties can use the share of the state’s savings that they receive for community- based programs, which include drug courts, specialized probation caseloads, and residential programs, including shortterm use of the county jail to promote compliance.
  • Cap maximum time nonviolent revoked probationers can serve for technical violations. Although technical revocations have declined, there were still 12,094 technical revocations in fiscal year 2011. Such revocations account for more than half a billion dollars in annual prison costs. Given that research shows that the swiftness and sureness of punishment is more important than the length of stay and that there is less of a need to incapacitate nonviolent offenders, technical revocations of nonviolent offenders who have not previously been revoked should be capped at 18 months with eligibility for parole occurring no earlier than 6 months.
  • Incorporate virtual education into prison education. The Windham School District, which serves Texas prisons, should implement blended learning approaches incorporating the state’s existing virtual school network with appropriate firewalls. Evidence indicates this could better address the challenge of inmates who are at very different baseline levels and learn at very different paces than relying on traditional classroom instruction alone.