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Texas to Eliminate Centralized Release of Prisoners

By September 1, 2010, a long-standing Texas prison tradition will come to an end--the centralized release of prisoners.

The vast majority of Texas prisoners released each year--more than 42,000 in 2008--are processed out through a red-brick walled prison built in 1842 designated the Huntsville Unit that Texas prisoners call “The Walls.” Female prisoners are released through a women’s prison in Gatesville. Texas is the last state in the nation to practice centralized release of prisoners.

The legislation mandating the change is codified at § 493.029, Texas Government Code, and requires that prisoners be released through one of at least six regional release centers or the prison at which the prisoner is incarcerated no later than September 1, 2010. Prison system spokeswoman Michelle Lyons said that the prison system expects to save money by not having to transport prisoners to Huntsville or Gatesville, but is unsure of how much the savings will be. Currently, the prison system operates a fleet of 80 buses and vans that transport over 2,100 prisoners each day for transfers between prisons and to medical facilities and courts.

“It’s been nuts to take prisoners from 112 units and haul them all the way back to Huntsville from El Paso, then let them out and buy them a bus ticket back to El Paso. This change represents a huge step forward. There’s no reason for that long ride back to Huntsville to continue,” said John Whitmire, Democratic State Senator from Houston and Chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

Some local politicians are complaining that, when Texas was building a record number of prisons in the 1990s, they were promised that prisoners would not be released into their communities. State officials say they will take that into account when designating the prisons to be used as regional release centers.

Source: Austin American-Statesman

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