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October 12, 2007 (512) 463-0300

CRIMINAL JUSTICE COMMITTEE LOOKS AT TEXAS PRISON SYSTEM

(AUSTIN) -- Officials from both the adult and juvenile prison systems testified Friday about the monitoring of private and publicly run correctional facilities in Texas. Early this month, state officials closed the Coke County Juvenile Justice Facility in west Texas, due to reports of unsatisfactory conditions at the facility. Monitors who were supposed to oversee and report any problems with in the Coke County facility did not report inadequacy there, but a state audit in late September found problems with the facilities and rehabilitation programs, and shut it down. Criminal Justice Committee Chair John Whitmire of Houston called Friday's meeting to consider the impact of monitoring of private prisons in Texas in part, he said, in reaction to this closure.

Demetria Pope, Acting Executive Director of Texas Youth Commission, testified that the agency has expanded its oversight of monitors, and is implementing a more accountable monitoring system which considers past litigation or complaints against a private monitoring company. Prior to the TYC reform bill, SB 103, Pope said monitoring was based by region, with reports only going as high as regional administrators. The new system will centralize this system, ensuring that the executive director will see all monitor reports. The agency is also reviewing current contracts with private companies.

The committee also heard about how private monitoring works in adult correctional facilities. The state has more than 18,000 beds that are under contract with private vendors in prisons and half-way houses, according to Department of Criminal Justice Executive Director Brad Livingston. He said that contract monitoring is done at private facilities by in-house state employees, as well as outside teams that audit these facilities unannounced every month. "I have confidence that we have enough eyesight on the facilities from a variety of vantage points and from a variety of areas of expertise to cover [all facilities]," said Livingstone.

Whitmire said his committee will meet again to hear testimony directly related to the Cook County facility, and it will also look at the issue of Texas' growing prison population of undocumented aliens. Livingstone testified that federal subsidies to offset the cost of housing foreign nationals has decreased in recent years, from $33 million in 1998, to $18.5 million in 2007.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.

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