Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Texas Posts 'For Rent' Sign on Empty Jail Beds after Investing $1.5 Billion in Prison Development, the Lone Star State Now Has the Most Beds Behind Bars in US

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Texas Posts 'For Rent' Sign on Empty Jail Beds after Investing $1.5 Billion in Prison Development, the Lone Star State Now Has the Most Beds Behind Bars in US

Article excerpt

YOU might call them itinerant inmates. Prisoners from North Carolina are serving time in Oklahoma. Colorado has sent some of its inmates to Minnesota. Virginia sent inmates to Texas. Nearly a dozen other states are comparison shopping, looking for the least expensive way to feed, house, and clothe inmates in out-of-state lockups.

Welcome to the overcrowded United States prison system, where inmates are serving time in whatever state has room for them. And right now, the state with the most beds behind bars is Texas.

A year ago, no one would have expected the Lone Star State to have surplus jail beds. County jails were so crowded that inmates were sleeping on floors, in hallways, and even in tents.

Today, those same jails have thousands of empty beds and rather than let them stay empty, county sheriffs have become innkeepers. Utah, Missouri, Colorado, and Virginia have already sent a total of 1,400 inmates to Texas jails and states will likely ship several thousand more inmates to Texas over the coming months.

Jail-building binge

For the past few years, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice paid counties to house inmates that it didn't have room for. But the state recently completed a $1.5 billion building binge that doubled the size of the state's prison system. As the new prison beds became available, the state took back its prisoners and jails that used to be packed with inmates were suddenly empty.

Meanwhile, states with too many prisoners and too few beds have been eager to advantage of the Lone Star State's surplus.

"It makes a lot of sense to the taxpayers to keep those spaces utilized," says Bobby Ross, a private prison contractor who helped arrange the deal that brought prisoners from Virginia and Colorado to Texas.

"It's a good deal for everyone, including states with an overcrowding problem. They can incarcerate their inmates until they can complete their building programs," he says.

Last month, the Colorado Department of Corrections sent 500 convicted felons to Bowie County, Texas. The inmates will stay there for two years while Colorado adds 3,000 new prison beds. …

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