PRISON REFORMS HAVING EFFECT
(AUSTIN) — The director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) reported that reforms passed during the 80th Legislative Session are having a positive impact on prison staffing levels. At a hearing of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, TDCJ Director Brad Livingston testified that his agency has filled more than a thousand vacancies. He said this was accomplished through a increase in starting pay for applicants who have a college degree or an honorable discharge from the military. Money appropriated last session also included funds for a 10 percent increase for all staff in the first three levels of prison employees.
Prison capacity was recently increased by converting former youth facilities in San Saba and Marlin to adult facilities. Last session the Legislature approved increasing space for probation and parole intermediate sanction facilities and drug treatment programs, but a Legislative Budget Board report shows capacity lagging behind projections.
Committee Chair Senator John Whitmire was less pleased with progress relating to reentry programs, aimed at helping former prisoners reintegrate into society. He directed Livingston to redouble his efforts at improving offender reentry, including developing an ID card for former prisoners to help them find work.
Committee Member Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa also raised concerns about the state of care at privately operated prison and treatment facilities, saying he has heard reports that these institutions cut corners to improve profit margins, and that prisoners at these facilities are more likely to be involved in violent crimes while incarcerated. Livingston said conditions at private facilities are monitored by the state and are nearly the same as at any state run prison. He promised to deliver a report to the committee comparing rates of violent crime between public and private facilities.
The Senate Criminal Justice Committee is chaired by Houston Senator John Whitmire, and vice-chaired by Amarillo Senator Kel Seliger. Its members are Senators John Carona, Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, Glenn Hegar, Rodney Ellis and Bob Deuell.