John Whitmire Says Prison Closings Show Texas Is ‘Smart’ About Crime

The longtime state senator from Houston says prison diversion programs are part of the reason for the closures, and that beds need to be for those who commit violent offenses, “not those that we’re mad at.”

By Jill AmentFebruary 21, 2020 11:01 am,

Soon, Texas will close two adult state prisons. Eight other prisons have closed over the last several years, due to declining prison populations. At the same time, the prisons that remain in operation are understaffed.

Houston Democratic state Sen. John Whitmire is chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. He supports the closures because he says they shows that Texas is “smart” about crime, focusing on incarcerating people for violent offenses, not non-violent crimes.

“We need to lock up people that we’re afraid of, not those that we’re mad at,” Whitmire says.

He says the prison closures are partly the result of diversion programs. The inmate population has dropped from 157,000 a decade ago, to about 140,000, today. And yet, Whitmire says Texas still “over-incinerates” people, especially women who are living with mental health issues, drug and alcohol issues.

A drop in crime has also contributed to the falling prisoner population, but crime hasn’t gone away, Whitmire says. He says the focus should be on putting people in prison for violent offenses, not non-violent ones.

“Prison beds are a valuable asset, and you shouldn’t waste them one day for someone does not need to be there,” he says.

Whitmire says the jobs at the prisons to be closed will be transferred to other prisons. He doesn’t know what jobs could fill the void once the prisons close. But he says those who work at the prisons now will have the opportunity to work at a different facility.


Written by Caroline Covington.