Category: prison

How Texas became a welfare state

By Alan Bean

Mineral Wells is a Texas town of 17,000 a little over fifty miles due west of Fort Worth.  The Texas legislature passed a budget for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice that will require the closure of two prisons and the Mineral Wells Unit is on the list.  Local officials say they will fight to the last ditch and the last breath to keep their precious prison.

This isn’t about public safety–the state of Texas has decided it doesn’t need the prison–it’s about jobs.

All of which raises a disturbing question.  Was the prison boom that transformed Texas in the 1990s about pork barrel politics rather than public safety?

Back in the day, nobody wanted a prison in their back yard; but hard times in the hinterland changed “you’re not building a prison in my back yard,” to “we’ll provide generous subsidies if somebody–the state or a private prison company–is willing to build us a big house.”  In towns like Mineral Wells and Tulia, the war on drugs, tough on crime politics and prison construction were all about helping little towns survive an agricultural crisis that started in the mid-1970s and shows no signs of letting up.

In the process, small-government Texas became the nation’s biggest welfare state.

It is unwise and immoral to base public safety decisions on the economic needs of isolated farming communities, but that is precisely what we have done.  Listen to the public officials in the Star-Telegram article below lamenting the loss of their darling prison and you realize that our nation’s great prison boom spread a horrible case of welfare dependency across the American heartland.

Mineral Wells vows to fight devastating closure of prison


The uncertainty is troubling many in Mineral Wells.

The question that continues to linger is whether the Mineral Wells Pre-Parole Transfer Facility — a 2,100-bed, privately run minimum-security prison — will close. (more…)

Grits begs Texas legislators to close unneeded prisons

The state of Texas is poised to make some really bad choices and Scott Henson of Grits for Breakfast is sounding the alarm.

A plea to Texas budget conferees: Close two prison units, don’t buy empty cells we don’t need

 This is a plea to the ten conference committee members on the budget from both chambers of the Texas Legislature, who for the record are:
  • House: Pitts, Crownover, Otto, S. Turner, Zerwas
  • Senate: Williams, Duncan, Hinojosa, Nelson, Whitmire

Let’s talk for a moment about prisons. First the House and Senate have both agreed in the base budget to fund 5% employee raises for correctional workers. Please don’t start slashing at those wage hikes to pay for prison units you don’t need. Including the extra money to bail out Jones County, the House decision to buy a prison instead of closing two will cost Texans an extra $116.8 million in incarceration costs over the biennium for those line items compared to the Senate budget. Close the privately-run Dawson State Jail and Mineral Wells pre-parole units as suggested by Senate-side budget writers and tell the folks in Jones County they’re on their own, just like so many other counties that built speculative prisons and jails they now can’t fill. (more…)

Johnny Cash, prison reformer

By Alan Bean

This fascinating essay touches on Johnny Cash’s lifelong prison ministry.  (It was produced for the BBC, which explains the funny spelling). It may sound odd to hear songs about “kickin’ and a-gougin’ in the mud, and the blood and the beer” characterized as a ministry, but that’s exactly what they were.  I purchased Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison a few years ago thinking this was the only prison album he recorded and likely the only prison concert he performed.  Not so.  He recorded two prison albums and performed at prisons across the United State throughout his 30-year career. (more…)

Baptist Preachers and Prison

My old Church History Professor is getting radical in his old age.  Bill was fresh out of Boston University when he came to Southern Seminary in Louisville in 1975.  I was in his first class.  A decade later, he was head of my PhD committee before leaving Southern for Samford University and then Wake Forest where he eventually became Dean of the Divinity School.  For years, the urbane Baptist scholar has been drawn to Black Baptist churches, so maybe he’s been radical all along.  AGB

For cause of conscience

By Bill Leonard
Thursday, May 10, 2012

Bill Leonard

In 1611, as they prepared to leave Amsterdam and return to England, members of the earliest Baptist congregation wrote a confession of faith, asserting that when members of the Body of Christ “come together” they “may and ought … to Pray, Prophecie, breake bread and administer in all the holy ordinances, although as yet they have no Officers, or that their Officers should be in Prison, sick or by any other means hindered from the Church.”

Those dissenters took it for granted that their “officers,” compelled by conscience, might ultimately end up in jail. Imprisonment was ensured for Thomas Helwys, the principal author of the 1611 confession, after the publication of his treatise, A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity, probably the first English text advocating complete religious liberty.

Arriving in England in 1612, Helwys was soon arrested and sent to Newgate Prison. Helwys scholar Richard Groves notes the possibility that a “handwritten document found in the Library of the House of Lords,” may have come from the Baptist leader. It states: “A most humble supplication of divers [various] poor prisoners and many others the king’s majesty’s loyal subjects ready to testify it by the oath of allegiance in all sincerity, whose grievances are lamentable, only for cause of conscience.”

Across the centuries dissent for “cause of conscience” has propelled innumerable Christians into “divers” prisons. It still does. (more…)