California’s prison misfortunes bring into sharp relief the progress being made in Texas. On April 12, the Los Angeles Times reported that California will spend an additional $7 billion on prison health care. This is on top of $7.7 billion in new prison construction. Both changes were triggered by federal court rulings.

It shouldn’t be the role of federal judges to dictate that prison facilities and inmate health care include all the bells and whistles. Texas has been there before when Judge William Wayne Justice micromanaged the state’s prison system for two decades.

State policymakers cannot control the federal courts, but they can continue Texas’ successful initiatives to avoid a California-style crisis. At the beginning of the 2007 legislative session, the state was projected to need 17,000 new prison beds by 2012, which would cost $1.5 billion to build and operate. Fortunately, taxpayers got off the hook as the Legislature adopted smart solutions such as emphasizing community corrections work and treatment initiatives for nonviolent offenders, and converting two TYC facilities into 1,200 adult prison beds.

Inmate health care costs can also be controlled through medical parole. A few years ago, one Texas geriatric inmate racked up $1 million in health care costs. The current medical parole rules are so narrow that very few inmates qualify – even among the several hundred paraplegics.

While California taxpayers are taking some tough medicine, Texas must continue following a new prescription for criminal justice.

– Marc Levin