funding. “I know what the civil libertarians are -concerned with, and there may be elements that do strike them as being really repugnant,” said Fritz, “But this is a life and ‘ death financial issue for counties like mine.” Caldwell County, for instance, built a new jail in anticipation of a $1.4 million contract with the District of Columbia that never materialized. Caldwell County Judge Rebecca Hawener said they have had to lay off employees and cut salaries by 20 percent. Hays County reported losting $84,000 a month because their 358-bed jail was operating at only about 50 percent capacity. These and other counties are casualties of a speculative trend in public facilities akin to the private prison boom. The Sunset Advisory Staff, in a report on the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, found that as of August 1990, 2,800 federal prisoners and 575 District of Columbia prisoners were being held in state’s 52 largest jails, and that space for 5,850 other contract prisoners under construction or being planned. In thirteen of the larger county facilities with 100 beds or more, out-of-state prisoners occupied at least 30 percent of the beds. Critics argue that a bill that could poten tially spur further speculation would be disastrous, even if it gives counties temporary relief. Some county officials admit that the situation is less than ideal. Hawener, for instance, said she would like the state system to incorporate county facilities.”We do not While Texas now spends 475 percent more on prisons than it did a decade ago, the crime rate has risen only 30 percent over the same period. have to build so many state prisons,” she said. “Constantly building more prisons is not solving problems, it’s adding to the problem..” But too often, Texas has succumbed to an overriding impetus to build prisons as a solution to any sort of corrections dilerrima. Three years ago, Clements called for the one of the most costly. expansive efforts in prison construction in the history of the country: to increase prison space by more than 50 percent in five years. Last November, the prison board called for 40,000 more beds. But according to CURE; more prisons have meant less money for rehabilitation programs, and a $708 million debt. While Texas now spends 475 percent more on prisons to incarcerate twice the population it did a decade ago, the crime rate has actually risen only 30 percent over the same period. Now that federal agencies are building more of their own facilities, many rural counties face a glut of jail space while the urban county jails and state prisons simultaneously remain overcrowded. Meanwhile, the state and counties continue to argue over who should pay for housing the backlog of prisoners. Donovan questions why, in the midst of a prison crisis in Texas, legislators have even considered shipping in out-of-state inmates. “This is the worst possible way to approach the criminal justice system,” she said. “It essentially means we are warehousing people in Texas to what end? Is this what Texas wants to be known for? Rights on the Rocks According to the National Prison Project Journal, the ‘United States now leads the world in rate of incarceration. More than million Americans, 426 out of every 100,000, live behind bars. The rate surpasses both America’s erstwhile rival, the Soviet Journal also notes that the United States imprisons black males at a rate four times that of South Africa 3,109 compared to 729 per 100,000. While prison construction has drastically increased, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics has estimated that the nation will need almost 1,800 new prison beds a week to keep pace of prison population growth. The U.S. incarceration rate may be the world’s highest, but for some policy makers, it’s not high enough. These people are working to put more people behind bars for longer periods of time. And they view prison privatization as an ideal vehicle for accornplishing their goals. On March 5, the day before the House County Affairs Committee passed Beaumont state Rep. Mark Stiles’ HB 841 \(see for Policy Analysis issued a report assessing the state of the Texas prison system. Written by Texas A&M professor Morgan Reynolds, the report called for increasing arrest and conviction rates, and speeding the privatization of prison construction and operation to overcome the resulting over crowding problem. Reynolds also argued that inmates should be forced to work, that the state should convert abandoned military bases into detention facilities, and that the government should abolish the Court of Criminal Appeals because it created too many legal privileges for criminal defendants. “It is time we in Texas got back to basics and punished without shame and without misguided illusions of rehabilitation,” concluded Reynolds. The Center’s list of board and advisory panel members reads like a who’s who of Texas’ rich and powerful. Highway Corn missioner and real estate developer Robert Dedman sits on the board, as well as Southland Corporation President Jere Thompson and Frito-Lay Chairman Michael Jordan. The advisory panel includes state Representative Kent Grusendorf, S&L-era high roller Trammell S. Crow, Dallas Mayor Annette Strauss, and a senior advisor for Merrill Lynch. When the National Center for Policy Analysis isn’t promoting private prisons, it is pushing for the capital gains fax cut in Congress and the privatization of Social Security, Medicare, and welfare programs. In its brochure, this conservative think tank in Dallas also purports to have proven “that the Reagan tax program has helped women, the working poor, and the elderly.” U.S. Senator Phil Gramm is another active proponent of private prisons. As part of his “Declaration of a National Drug and Crime Emergency Act,” a bill pending in Congress, Gramm encourages lease-purchase agreements and prisons designed, financed, constructed, and managed by the private corrections industry. “To the greatest extent possible, the Attorney General shall utilize creative and cost-effective private fmancing alternatives and private construction and operation of prisons.” The legislation accuses federal courts of “unreasonably endangering the corn unity by sweeping prison and jail cap orders as a remedy for detention conditions that they hold are in conflict with the eighth amendment,” and prohibits judges from declaring prison systems unconstitutional during the five-year period of the “national emergency” declared by the act Gramm also proposes several “cost cutting measures,” which would eliminate expenditures for “air conditioning, recreational facilities, color television, social services, and similar amenities.” In the bill, Gramm states that the federal government, as a general policy, should put inmates in prisons, jails and other detention facilities to work. Labor will include, but is not limited to, local public works projects, construction of new prisons, prison industries, and other “appropriate” labor. It’s possible that even Clayton Williams’ infamous suggestion, “bustin’ rocks,” would be accepted under the final category. –J.W. 8 MAY 3, 1991
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