Texas Department of Criminal Justice to Request Budget Cut Exemptions

On Thursday, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice presented a legislative appropriations request to its governing board that offered $28 million in cuts. Officials added that they would seek an exemption from further cuts.

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

When the state's top elected officials asked agencies to reduce their funding requests by 4 percent for the 2018-19 biennium, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice was presented a challenge to identify about $242 million in cuts.

On Thursday, officials with the department presented a legislative appropriations request to its governing board that offered just $28 million in cuts for now, with officials saying they would seek an exemption from further cuts.

The Department of Criminal Justice says those cuts would come in large part from shutting down the 450-bed South Texas Intermediate Sanction Facility in Houston and repurposing the nearby 667-bed Kegan State Jail into an intermediate sanction facility — a short-term, "wake-up call" facility for people who violate their ‎parole. The average stay in such facilities is 60 to 90 days, according to the TDCJ. The agency said it would also reduce its limited capital funding and administrative operating costs.

The remaining $214 million? The department says it will make the case to state lawmakers that it shouldn't cut any further. The department will say that $607.7 million in funding, including the $214 million — the remaining amount in cuts needed to reach 4 percent — should be left alone. 

The agency will also argue for additional levels of funding to maintain current operations. Among those, the agency will request $14.8 million for privately operated facilities, $38.1 million for repairs and renovations, and $247.3 million in health care costs for offenders.

The list goes on: $22 million for the employer portion of Community Supervision and Corrections Department health insurance costs, $21.3 million for probation specialized caseloads, $15.4 million for offender rehabilitation, $12 million for mental health funding, $2.9 million for offender re-entry coordinators and $19.9 million for information technology.

If TDCJ is required to go forward with the 4 percent cuts, there could be an increase in recidivism and inmate population, and require a staff reduction of 2,000 employees, according to the agency.

"It's fairly lean already," said Bryan Collier, TDCJ's new executive director. "Much of our budget is people."

It's still early in the process, though, Collier said. The department has a good relationship with lawmakers and will show how cuts would affect it, he said.

"They understand what we do," Collier said. "They understand what we are."