DALLAS – Texas Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tommy Williams is proposing that the state use a vacant private prison that defaulted on its debt to economize on incarceration costs.

The prison in Jones County defaulted $35.8 million of revenue bonds shortly after its completion in 2010.  The jail, built to house inmates under a contract with Texas, never opened after the state cancelled the contract.

Debt for the private prison was issued by Texas Midwest Public Facility Corp.  Standard & Poor’s dropped the rating on the bonds to D from CC after the issuer failed to make its $2.23 million interest and principal payment due on Oct. 1, 2011.

The prison is one of several in the state that were left vacant by falling incarceration rates in Texas. One public prison was closed in 2011

In shifting inmates to Jones County, the plan calls for closure of a privately run Pre-Parole Transfer Facility in Mineral Wells and the state-owned Dawson State Jail for a net decrease in beds.

The state now has about 11,000 empty prison beds.  Under the plan, the closure of the two facilities would eliminate 3,500 beds while adding 1,100 in Jones County.

Jones County officials have lobbied the Legislature to buy the abandoned lockup for $25 million. Closing the other two prisons would save about $90 million, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Sen. Robert Duncan, R-Lubbock, represents Jones County and serves on the Senate Finance Committee that is working on the Senate version of the state budget for the next two years.

Jones County, north of Abilene in West Texas, built the jail with the understanding that the Texas Department of Corrections would provide inmates. The original contract was for two years, with three one-year renewal options, with funds already appropriated through fiscal 2011. However, the state notified Jones County officials that the department would not be sending inmates to the facility, though the contract has not been officially terminated.

County officials also sought inmates from other states.

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