AUSTIN (Nexstar) — The Texas Department of Criminal Justice confirmed Thursday the agency has been directed by Gov. Greg Abbott to move prisoners from the Briscoe Unit in Dilley to make room for migrants with low-level offenses.
“Beginning on June 16, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) began moving inmates from the Dolph Briscoe Unit in Dilley, Texas, to other facilities with available capacity throughout the state. This action will allow the unit to serve as a central holding facility for non-TDCJ detainees who have been arrested and charged with a state offense,” a TDCJ spokesperson said in a statement.
TDCJ would not specify which facilities the prisoners were being transferred to, but said the agency has 20,000 vacant beds.
TDCJ said it’s working with other state agencies, including the Texas Department of Public Safety and Texas Division of Emergency Management, to “ensure the safe and secure detention of unlawful immigrants charged with a state offense.”
It adds the Windham School District and the University of Texas Medical Branch will help provide appropriate services to those housed at the unit.
The governor’s office said the move comes in direct response to the Biden administration’s ‘reckless open border policies’ to enforce all federal and state laws.
“In conversations between the Governor’s Task Force on Border and Homeland Security and TDCJ, it was determined that the Briscoe Unit was in a strategic location to house those arrested for committing a crime along the border and had adequate staffing to run the facility. TDCJ has assured the task force that they have adequate space for Briscoe inmates in other facilities, and that TDCJ employees at the unit will keep their current positions,” Abbott’s spokesperson Renae Eze said Thursday.
This comes a day after Abbott announced $250 million would be pulled from TDCJ’s budget to fund the Texas border wall. TDCJ said the money will be coming from the agency’s 2023 fiscal year budget.
“State leadership has assured the agency that this is a temporary measure, and the money will be re-appropriated without a negative impact on TDCJ,” a spokesperson added.
Criminal justice advocates worry about the long-term effects of both the budget cut and the TDCJ housing migrants.
“To take even more money from TDCJ. And then also to put more people into TDCJ custody is just outrageous,” Kate Huddleston with the ACLU explained. She also questioned the implication of treating migrants who haven’t gone to trial like prisoners.
“We’re putting migrants with low-level offenses in here. But is it fair to treat a migrant with a low-level offense, is it fair to say let’s treat them like a fully-convicted prisoner?” Huddleston said.
The Texas Criminal Justice Coalition said the $250 million could go a long way in our state prisons.
“We could have put it into both pre-release programming so that people are better prepared for parole, once they’re approved for parole, they could have put it into better conditions, better services, just to ensure that we lower recidivism rates,” Doug Smith with TCJC said.
“Oftentimes people move to cities close to where their loved ones who are incarcerated are, so that… they can visit them more frequently. So this will be really disruptive for a lot of families,” Smith added.
That includes families like McAllen-native Haydee De Leon’s, whose husband is in the Briscoe Unit.
“They just decide to shut it down, transfer over 740 inmates in one night. You know, I have questions,” De Leon said Thursday.
Currently, the drive from McAllen to the prison in Dilley is three hours. But her husband has now been transferred to the Sanchez Unit in El Paso.
“It’s an 11-hour drive,” De Leon said, explaining frustration as she requested a hardship for her husband to be close due to her mother’s medical issues preventing long travel times.
Maggie Villareal doesn’t even know where her son has been transferred to. She hasn’t been able to get in contact with him.
“They’re sending them as far as El Paso. I can’t go see him in El Paso,” Villareal said.
She’s also upset Abbott is pulling money from TDCJ’s budget at the same time and said the $250 million would go a long way in our state prisons.
“Free medical treatment, better food, make hygiene without them having to buy it and air conditioning,” Villareal said. “They’re still humans.”