Nothing is set in stone, but the Texas prison system soon could close several facilities to reduce expenses as state agencies face budget cuts over the next two years.
The Texas Senate’s preliminary budget calls for the closure of the state-operated Ware Unit in Colorado City, which is west of Abilene, and three privately-operated facilities in North, West and Central Texas, according to Texas Department of Criminal Justice spokesman Jason Clark.
“The recent projections published by the Legislative Budget Board show very little offender population growth,” Clark said Friday. “We believe it may be possible to close one or more facilities without negatively affecting public safety.”
Clark said if the Ware Unit is shut down, a plan is in place to accommodate TDCJ employees while addressing staffing issues at a nearby prison. The majority would be transferred to the Wallace Unit, which is located on the same property.
The other facilities facing closure are the Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, Bartlett State Jail and West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility, which is where parole violators are housed.
“If the decision is made to close the West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility, the Rudd Unit, also in Brownfield, would be repurposed into an intermediate sanction facility,” Clark said. “(Rudd) currently is a transfer facility. The West Texas ISF currently has 275 beds. If the Rudd Unit is repurposed, there would be a net increase of 337 ISF beds.”
Clark said that inmates affected by the proposed closings would be transferred to other facilities that have empty beds.
TDCJ has already closed one unit in the past four months. The South Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility in Houston was shut down in December.
According to the Senate budget, closing the Ware Unit and Bartlett State Jail would save the state $36.4 million. Clark said closing the Bridgeport Pre-Parole Transfer Facility and West Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility would address other funding requirements with TDCJ.
Leading up to the legislative session, which began in January, Gov. Greg Abbott mandated that each state agency cut its budget 4 percent over the next two years because of lost revenue in the oil and gas industry.
The proposed 4 percent cut would result in TDCJ losing $248 million from its previous two-year budget. Prison officials are asking to continue funding $214 million of the 4 percent cut because they fear a staff reduction of 2,000 employees, increased recidivism and significant growth in the prison population among other issues.
Final budget decisions will be made by the 85th Legislature and Abbott in May.