Central Unit prison in Sugar Land, Texas, closed its gates for good Sept. 1.
The prison, which had 950 inmate beds, was the first state prison ever closed in Texas and the first in 130 years to be closed in Texas without a replacement to follow.
Central Unit closed under the idea that it would save the state $12.4 million a year, according to multiple reports from newspapers in the area.
Amidst changes the Texas’ corrections system is facing, it seems that “seeing dollar signs” can cloud related decision-making.
Sugar Land has been deemed the second-fastest growing city in Texas.
With that comes increased interest in any nearby undeveloped land, and Central Unit provided exactly that.
Although only about 330 acres of the prison ground remained, the prison provided a large area for potential development.
When a 2009 study showed potential big bucks with the addition of a business park, city officials got excited. And with the state’s budget crisis, lawmakers were more easily swayed.
Now the 300 staff members and dozens of inmates have been relocated to other nearby prisons. When the prison closed, only 92 prisoners were incarcerated at the facility.
According to an article in The Economist, each prisoner in Texas costs approximately $23,000 per year. With the closure of Central Unit, they did not disappear; they were simply displaced. Now, only 111 state prisons remain in the state, which had the second largest total prison population in the nation in 2010, according to Pew Research Center.
All the while, prisons nationwide are operating above capacity and prison overcrowding has the attention of criminal justice scholars throughout the country.
Other states, such as California, have difficulties housing all of their prisoners and have even conducted prisoner transfers to address overpopulation.
When it comes to a national problem such as this, it seems impractical that any prison should be closed.
The most bothersome issues with the closure of Central Unit are based upon principle.
Texas is known as one of the most “hardcore” states when it comes to punitive measures and justice. Texas trumps every other state in the number of executions carried out each year and its citizens tend to hold a “tough on crime” mentality.
On the contrary, Texas also embraces multiple successful rehabilitation programs for prisoners.
It seems a bit hypocritical that Texas would close a prison when people express disdain for early release of criminals and want harsher punishment.
Furthermore, Central Unit was a minimum-security prison, which meant that chances were high that inmates would eventually end up back in society.
Sugar Land’s prison had provided opportunities for inmate skill-building since it was built in 1932.
Prisoners farmed, worked at a cannery, and ran a meat packing plant that were all owned by the state.
Up until it was closed, Central Unit provided programs for inmate rehabilitation that led to successful convict reintegration and helped fight recidivism.
Closing a prison that works towards such a well-received goal in criminal justice again seems to fly in the face of “what Texas stands for.”
Finally, although it is less important in affecting Texas’ economy, Central Unit is an unmistakable historical marker in Sugar Land.
The original 5,400 acres for the correctional facility were bought in 1908 from Imperial Sugar and,over time, the property was whittled down.
The 330 acres Central Unit consumed was all that was left of the once-rural city’s site.
It was one of the oldest prisons in Texas and retained much of its original structure.
The debt crisis that states face today can greatly influence decisions and often rightly so.
While many factors should be considered for this type of decision, in Central Unit’s case, greed put the process in fast pace.
It seems like an odd move for Texas, and the promise of money-to-come may have overshadowed some of the other important issues at hand.