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Sugar Land prison set to close

This has been a long time coming.

Texas joins a nationwide trend of shutting expensive state prisons, driven partly by red ink in state budgets, partly by a drop in convict numbers (with the lowest crime rate since 1973) and partly by a policy shift from lock-’em-up justice to rehabilitation programs.

“From where Texas was just a few short years ago, this is huge,” said House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden, a Richardson Republican and an architect of the changes. “There were those who said this day would never come.”

Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, said the Central Unit in Sugar Land — the state’s second-oldest prison, opened in April 1909 — will be vacant by the end of the month. The closure will send 71 correctional officers to new jobs in other lockups.

Just a few months ago, it housed more than 900 felons — including a trusty whose nighttime escape to go shopping at a nearly Walmart Super Center made national headlines.

On Tuesday, Lyons said, just about 80 felons and 200 correctional officers remained on site, working to move the prison system’s soap factory to the Roach Unit in distant Childress and a prison trucking hub to the nearby Ramsey Unit for now.

“Inmates have been relocated to other units. Most of the staff is transferring to other units,” Lyons said. “After the end of the month, we plan to be out of there.”

Then, the state’s General Land Office will take over, handling an expected environmental assessment among other steps needed to put the 325-acre site on the market for development — either through a sale or lease.

“The buildings are a liability,” said Jim Suydam, a General Land Office spokesman, noting that the farmlands around the lockup are now suburbia. “Nobody wants a prison.”

The fact that Sugar Land officials wanted the prison to be closed so the land could be redeveloped was at least as big a factor as the other things mentioned. As such, I don’t know that this is the start of a trend or a one-off. This was the easiest and most obvious prison to close, and it still took a pretty extraordinary set of circumstances to make it happen. I hate to be a pessimist, but I’ll need to see this happen again to feel differently.

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  1. Jim Suydam says:

    …the best part is, the school kids of Texas will make a tidy sum from this land, one way or another. And that’s pretty cool.

  2. […] story, which is primarily about the soon-to-be-closed Central Unit in Sugar Land, discussed the possibility that other prisons may also wind up being closed, but […]

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