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Sugar Land prison to be closed

Good news.

Lawmakers trying to settle on the state’s budget for the next two years have agreed to shutter a 102-year-old state prison in Sugar Land.

Under the proposal adopted this week by negotiators from both chambers of the Legislature, the state would stop funding beyond Aug. 31 the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Central Unit, which sits on 326 acres near Texas 6 and U.S. 90A.

Proponents said closing the prison would save the state about $50 million over two years while allowing the $30 million property, which is adjacent to the Sugar Land Regional Airport, to be sold for economic development.

House Corrections Committee chairman Jerry Madden, R-Richardson, said the generally steady prison population has diminished the need to keep the unit open. Lawmakers started considering the closure four years ago when lobbied by the Sugar Land community, he said.

See here and here for some background on this, which was something local officials had been lobbying for. The bad news, as Grits notes, is that the savings from this could be better spent.

As recently as a week ago, it appeared to have been spared as budget conferees debated whether taking 1,500 prison beds offline was a good idea. They feared that an increase in the prison population during the next two years might leave the state short of beds.

Two other lockups also had been targeted for possible closure: a pre-release center in Mineral Wells and the Dawson State Jail in Dallas.

Instead of closing them, Madden said budget writers agreed to set aside about $15 million for prison officials to lease additional beds if needed over the next two years.

“I don’t think we’ll need the additional beds, but it’s a precaution,” [Sen. John] Whitmire said.

Hopefully, that money won’t get spent, and lawmakers will realize that closing some other unneeded prisons and continuing to fund diversion and treatment programs that reduce the need for more prisons is a good idea going forward. Given the lack of a fix for the structural deficit and the billions that are being deferred to make this budget look balanced, they’ll certainly need to find more savings in 2013. Hair Balls has more.

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