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December 6, 2011

Effective review of the enduring challenge of cutting prison costs

This local article from Texas, which is headlined "Prison cuts prove fleeting: Critics say state can't afford to lock up so many people," highlights that even those states that have been effective at reducing the growth of its prison population will still often struggle to actually reduce its prison costs. Here are excerpts from this effective piece:

Last summer, when tough-on-crime Texas closed its first prison ever, legislative leaders were jubilant over downsizing one of the nation's largest corrections systems by more than 1,000 beds. It was a first big step, they said, toward saving taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in coming years.

Meanwhile, prison officials were adding bunks to the other 111 state prisons, which house more than 156,000 convicts. By last week, Texas had about 2,000 more prison bunks than it did a year ago, thanks to a state law that requires the prison system to maintain some excess capacity as a cushion against crowding.

Because those beds will likely fill up — empty prison beds almost always do — Texas taxpayers could be in line for some whopping additional costs come 2013. The situation illustrates how difficult it is to significantly reduce prison costs in a fast-growing state like Texas without confronting a tough political question: Can society afford to keep so many criminals behind bars?

"This is the adult discussion that the Legislature is going to have to have," said Scott Medlock, an Austin attorney with the Texas Civil Rights Project. "Ultimately, the problem is that we're incarcerating too many people for too long."

State Sen. John Whitmire, a Houston Democrat who for more than a decade has headed the committee that oversees prisons, echoes the sentiment: "At some point, because of the costs, we have to recognize that we don't need to waste one dollar incarcerating one person that doesn't really need to be behind bars. We're at that point."

To significantly reduce the number of people in prison, state laws could be changed to reduce penalties for some crimes or to limit local judges' discretion to mete out long prison sentences for nonviolent crimes — both of which would be unpopular politically. About 35 percent of the convicts in prison are serving time for nonviolent crimes, according to a prison system statistical report for 2010....

Expecting that an even tighter budget may be ahead, even as prison costs — especially medical costs — increase, a variety of advocacy groups are pushing for fewer Texans in prison. Medlock suggests that the state Board of Pardons and Paroles should release Texas' "most medically expensive and least criminally dangerous" prisoners — a group that could include several hundred.

Ten convicts alone racked up more than $6.1 million in medical bills during 2010 — including one 45-year-old prisoner whose treatment cost more than $1.2 million, internal prison-system statistics show. Under current law, prisoners are not eligible to receive Medicaid. Parolees, however, can.

"Texas inmates aged 55 and older make up about eight percent of the state's prison population, but account for more than 30 percent of the system's hospital costs," Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project wrote in a letter to the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, which is reviewing the operations of the prison and parole systems with an eye toward overhaul in 2013.

December 6, 2011 at 05:57 PM | Permalink


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Today, a guard can manage 5 prisoners, if they decide to cut him a break that day. Allow swift, certain, harsh, painful corporal punishment, and a guard can manage likely 100 prisoners. One may not even verbally criticize a prisoner without allegations of emotional abuse, an lawyer investigation, and the possibility of being fired. The lawyer has made it impossible to control extremely violent, incorrigible people. Ever more restriction on control methods can only have one alternative, greater staffing, and more government make work jobs for unnecessary people. That small number 5 prisoners to one guard is now in the formal regulations, as a minimum but not a maximum.

The analogy is to abolitionist argument, the death penalty costs too much, when abolitionist obstruction is the cause of all delays and costs.

Again, it is impossible for the legal intellectual to consider what is self-evident to ordinary people, without increasing risk to public safety.

Because lawyer and left wing progressive rent seeking is a synonym for armed robbery, it should be criminalized. Its practitioners should not take up expensive prion beds. They should be repeatedly caned, whenever they do it, everyday, if that is the frequency of their crime.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 7, 2011 6:51:04 AM

I had a post on Grits reacting to this story and providing some additional background.

To correct SC's blathering about a "guard can manage 5 prisoners," in Texas at best the inmate to guard ratio is 48-1, and on many units it's higher than that because of understaffing. As I understand it, it's higher still in CA. Between such delusional detachment from reality and the absurdist call for criminalizing and beating those who disagree with him, SC's in particularly high form today. Nutjob.

Posted by: Gritsforbreakfast | Dec 7, 2011 8:23:26 AM

"Ten convicts alone racked up more than $6.1mil in medical bills during 2010"

I think that Congressman Paul would say that if these inmates can't pay for their costly medical treatments--above and beyond those of the average convict--they should not receive them.

Posted by: Adamakis | Dec 7, 2011 9:49:57 AM

Grits: Only you are stupid enough to respond to my comments, so thank you.

From the Bureau of Prisons.


Here is another reliable citation, on the guard to prisoner ratio:


Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 8, 2011 12:25:10 AM

Grits? Where are you? I take back the "stupid" adjective.

You still have to rebut your own posting.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Dec 10, 2011 11:59:29 PM

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