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The Brief: Dec. 10, 2010

Already squeezed, Texas prisons are about to face a tough few months.

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THE BIG CONVERSATION:

Already squeezed, Texas prisons are about to face a tough few months.

Following potential cuts to health services and public education announced this week on the heels of an additional 2.5-percent budget cut requested of state agencies, Texas' prison system chief says his agency faces a "long and difficult process" in cutting spending, The Associated Press reports.

"All of the obvious savings have been identified," Brad Livingston, executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, told a meeting of the agency's board on Thursday. The agency, Livingston said, already cut $55 million in response to cuts already ordered, and the additional cuts — amounting to $75 million for the department — could force a major shake-up.

"It would be virtually impossible to avoid significant staff reductions under significant reduction scenarios," Livingston said.

And while an official said the state was not considering closing any of Texas' 112 prisons, agency officials addressed another stark financial reality: the University of Texas Medical Branch's hope, citing financial losses, to stop providing medical care to the state's 154,000 convicts at prison clinics it runs. UTMB provides care for about two-thirds of the state's prison units, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

Livingston called UTMB's proposal a "fundamental shift" that would require the restructuring of a system already facing significant cuts.

State leaders have called for these agency cuts in response to a record state budget shortfall, which some estimate could top out as high as $28 billion.

CULLED:

"It's such a transparent political exercise." — U.S. Sen. John Cornyn on Democratic attempts to pass the DREAM Act, which on Thursday was tabled for a vote in the Senate until next week

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