Breckenridge Texan

TDCJ: Local prison unit under no threat of closure
September 12
17:22 2017

According to a spokesperson with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, there are no discussions to close Stephens County’s Walker-Sayle Unit, despite media reports.

“There has been no discussion regarding the closure of the Sayle Unit,” Robert Hurst, a spokesperson with the TDCJ in Huntsville, said in an email Tuesday afternoon, Sept. 12.

The story apparently originated in the Breckenridge City Commission meeting last week. However, City Manager Andy McCuistion confirmed Tuesday that he has not been contacted by anyone at the state or the prison saying they are considering closing the unit.

In the city commission meeting, McCuistion, the commissioners and others discussed the possibility of lowering the prison’s water and sewer rates.

“We’re just trying to be pre-emptive here,” he said. “They’ve closed some other units, and we’re just trying to look at the possibility of decreasing rates. The last warden we had out here was the first one that contacted me about water rates. Nobody at Austin has contacted me (about water or sewer rates), but the local warden did.”

McCuistion said he reads a blog titled “Grits for Breakfast,” which focuses on the Texas prison system, and that discussions there have been concerned with the TDCJ budget and some prison closures.

“They closed one at Colorado City, and I just read where they closed one at Bartlett. And, it’s impacting these little cities. But, nobody’s ever said they were considering closing ours,” he said.

When the Walker-Sayle warden contacted the City, he provided a list of prison units that are comparative in size but that have lower water and sewer rates. “He said he was concerned about bringing the costs down, wanted to know why we were so high,” McCuistion said.

The city manager said the water and sewer rates were set higher, when the area was in a drought, as an incentive for conservation. “Then, we lowered the rate back to where it was before that time, but it still was high, compared to other (prison) units,” he said. “So, that’s why we’re looking at it now, because we’re not sure the state will give us a chance to lower those rates. We’re not sure they go into negotiations to do this. They just may look at the numbers and say, ‘You’re too high, and we’re going to close you.’”

No one from the prison system, except for the warden, ever talked to McCuistion, he confirmed, and the warden never tied the rates to potential closure.

“No, there was never anything like that. He was just trying to get his costs down, wanted to know why they were so high, compared to other units,” he said. “Nobody’s ever mentioned closing this one. We’re just trying to stay ahead of the curve and looking at our rates, seeing if can we justify bringing them down some so we can be more competitive. That has nothing to do with anybody telling us that they’re looking at closing the unit.”

Hurst said the Texas Legislature would be the entity to close a prison facility. The legislature recently wrapped up their 2017 session/special session and is not scheduled to reconvene for regular session until January 2019.

 

Story by Tony Pilkington and Carla McKeown

Photo by Tony Pilkington/Breckenridge Texan

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