The Huntsville Item, Huntsville, TX

Local News

September 1, 2011

Ogden: TDCJ move to Austin unlikely despite senator's comments

HUNTSVILLE — When State Rep. Jerry Madden decided not to push for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice headquarters to be moved out of Huntsville during the last legislative session, Walker County residents let out a huge sigh of relief.

But Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, raised more concerns recently. Whitmire told The Austin American Statesman last week that he would bring up consolidating the prison system’s headquarters in Austin again during the next session in the wake of budget cuts and layoffs.

Sen. Steve Ogden, R-Bryan, disagrees.

“It is not going to happen while I’m in office,” Ogden said Wednesday afternoon. “It is not going to happen in the next biennium. There is no money in the budget for it.”

A representative with Whitmire’s office said Wednesday that the senator would not comment on the consolidation matter at this time.

In the Statesman story, Whitmire was critical of recent TDCJ moves, including the more than $1.2 million the agency has poured into an abandoned Veterans Administration hospital in Marlin over the past four years. The building, which sits vacant, was supposed to be turned into a prison hospital for women.

“This is an agency with 112 prisons across the state that’s just cut programs and laid off employees, and they’re continuing to do business just like they were before,” Whitmire told the Statesman.

“That needs to change. And their headquarters needs to be in Austin, the seat of state government. Huntsville has outlived its usefulness for that.”

During the last legislative session, TDCJ began reducing its workforce in an effort to trim $40 million from the 2011 budget, which also applied to the fiscal year 2012-13. Those moves resulted in the loss of more than 500 jobs.

With TDCJ and other state-funded agencies struggling for money, Ogden said that is does not make sense to move the headquarters to Austin.

“The trend has been to get more agencies out of Austin than in it,” Ogden said. “It is more expensive for agencies to function in Austin and for employees to live there.

“We need to put this to bed for the next year and a half. As for the next session, I do not see how it would be financially possible for this to happen.”

Whitmire serves as the chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and is a member of the Texas Sunset Commission, which is responsible for reviewing state agencies in an effort to make them more efficient. TDCJ will be up for its sunset review during the next legislative session when Whitmire could push for the consolidation to happen.

“TDCJ maintains facilities and operations throughout the state of Texas, including prison units, parole offices and halfway houses in dozens of Texas cities,” TDCJ spokeswoman Michelle Lyons wrote in an email. “Consistent with state law, we have located our key agency functions both in Huntsville and Austin, which has allowed us to effectively manage our system from both locations. We recognize that ultimately the decision to consolidate TDCJ’s headquarters would be one made by the Texas Legislature.”

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