AUSTIN, Texas - Texas lawmakers are trying to reform the prison system to avoid a costly building program by spending proposed construction funds on expanded probation programs, drug treatment services, and transferring non-violent elderly inmates to nursing homes.
Signaling a possible shift in state policy, a Texas House budget panel recently began assembling a sweeping prison reform package that hinges on keeping thousands of Texas criminals out of prison.
Under the plan, older and infirm inmates who pose a minimal threat could be transferred from prison cells to nursing home-like programs where federal Medicaid and Medicare funds could pay the bills instead of state taxpayers. Up to $62 million in additional budget funds would be earmarked to temporarily lease enough prison beds to ease an immediate crowding problem.
Officials said that the state's existing 112 prisons and other lockups may be full as soon as March 2005. The budget panel's challenge came after a preliminary state report determined that Texas will need to build five new prisons to meet population projections.
House Corrections Committee Chairman Jerry Madden (R) said many of the prison reforms are worthy of consideration, with or without new money. Madden believes some new beds are likely because the alternative programs can't be implemented overnight.