The Facts

* Prisons cost Texas taxpayers $50.79 per inmate per day, which is $18,538 per year and below the national average.

* Each new state prison bed costs more than $60,000 to build.

* Probation costs $3.40 per day, of which the offenders pay 54% of that in fees, resulting in a taxpayer cost of less than half of that.

* TDCJ’s budget increased from $793 million in 1990 to $3.1 billion in 2014.


* Implement Senate Bill 1055 to incentivize lower costs and less recidivism. A provision is needed in the next budget authorizing TDCJ to implement SB 1055 by reallocating to participating counties some of the savings from prison closures achieved through the implementation of the local commitment reduction plans described in the legislation. In 2010—the first fiscal year of Texas’ Juvenile Commitment Reduction Program—juvenile commitments to state lockups fell 36%, saving taxpayers at least $114 million, while juvenile crime continued to decline. SB 1055 provides that counties can use the share of the state’s savings that they receive for community-based programs, which include drug courts, specialized probation caseloads, and residential programs, including short-term use of the county jail to promote compliance. 

* Cap maximum time nonviolent revoked probationers can serve for technical violations. Although technical revocations have declined, there were still 12,094 technical revocations in fiscal year 2011. Such revocations account for more than half a billion dollars in annual prison costs. Given that research shows that the swiftness and sureness of punishment is more important than the length of stay and that there is less of a need to incapacitate nonviolent offenders, technical revocations of nonviolent offenders who have not previously been revoked should be capped at 18 months with eligibility for parole occurring no earlier than 6 months. 

* Incorporate virtual education into prison education. Blended learning approaches could incorporate the state’s existing virtual school network with appropriate firewalls. Evidence indicates this could better address the challenge of inmates who are at very different baseline levels and learn at very different paces than relying on traditional classroom instruction alone.