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.
BY ANNA M. TINSLEY
The uncertainty is troubling many in Mineral Wells.