AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas Senate and House budget negotiators have tentatively agreed to close two privately run state prisons.
The Texas Board of Criminal Justice would decide which two prisons to shutter under the Friday's agreement, the Austin American-Statesman reports.
The Senate, in its state budget plan, had targeted a 2,100-bed transfer facility in Mineral Wells and a 2,200-bed state jail in Dallas for closure. The House, in its plan, had allocated funding for each.
Under new wording in the budget bills, legislators agreed to cut $97 million from the criminal justice budget. That's the amount it costs to run the Dawson State Jail in Dallas and the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility, although the budget bill won't specifically name those two lockups.
The conflicting budget proposals and feuding lawmakers in both chambers had endangered the entire state criminal justice budget.
The newspaper, without naming them, said legislative leaders are in agreement on closing Dawson, but that Mineral Wells representatives are pushing to keep their facility open, saying it would harm the economy in the city about 75 miles west of Dallas.
State Sen. John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, has campaigned to close the two units for more than two years. They are both operated run by the Corrections Corp. of America under a contract with the state. Whitmire contends that the state already has 12,000 unused prison beds and the two aren't needed.
Brad Livingston, executive director of the Department of Criminal Justice, wrote Whitmire earlier this month that the design of Mineral Wells, built as a military barracks and not a prison, made it a top candidate for closing. The design causes security and safety code considerations, Livingston said.
Its location adjacent to a park, college and private land also contributes to security concerns, he said. Prison records show frequent instances of contraband drugs and cell phones tossed over the prison fence.
It opened in 1989 at a time when Texas prisons were under federal court control because of crowding and was intended as a holding site for parolees heading out.
Livingston says his agency has been planning to not renew its contract for Mineral Wells after it expires in August.