The Interplay of Prisoners’ Rights Litigation and Privatization in Texas
Craig Malisow of the Houston Press offers an interesting historical perspective on Texas’s turn to private prisons:
In 1978, Judge William Wayne Justice of the Eastern District of Texas presided over a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of all Texas prisoners against the Texas Department of Corrections (as it was then known). Two years later, Justice ruled that TDC violated prisoners’ constitutional rights in six areas. The department and the prisoners entered a consent decree regarding the necessary improvements.
The changes were slow to come, a problem exacerbated by the rapidly increasing number of inmates. “By the mid-1980s, Judge Justice had become so impatient with the pace at which the state was changing its prison system that he demanded that the state pay a daily fine in excess of $800,000 if it did not improve its efforts to comply with the mandates of the decision,” according to the Abt report.
Freaked out by the potential financial hemorrhage, lawmakers in 1987 passed the first bit of legislation that would allow the TDC — rechristened the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in 1989 — the ability to contract with private vendors for the housing of prisoners, parolees and juvenile offenders.
To follow all things Texas criminal justice, bookmark Grits for Breakfast, and if you’re interested in private prisons specifically, do the same with Texas Prison Bid’ness. I don’t write as much about Texas in this space as I do about other big states — partly because I happen to live in California, but mainly because Texas prison/jail issues are covered so much more knowledgeably and comprehensively over at Grits.