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As Texas Prisons Populations Turn Old And Gray, The Costs Become Weighty, Even Deadly

Texas Department of Criminal Justice
Approximately 27,000 inmates in Texas prisons are over the age of 50.

Five stories that have North Texas talking: State prisons are swelling with older, illness-prone inmates; The Pope will be visible from the El Paso border today; it’s still technically winter despite unusually warm weather; Sandbranch will receive a temporary supply of water; and more.

The Texas Observer published a story focusing on Benito Alonzo, an 80-year-old convict with prostate cancer and Hepatitis C. He’s been on the waiting list since March 2015 for a 12-week treatment, costing $94,500, that could extend his life.

“Were he back on the streets, Medicare would pick up the tab. But because federal courts have ruled that states must guarantee the safety and health of their inmates, Texas will have to pay. Alonzo frets that because of the expense, prison bureaucrats will stall the treatment until it’s too late,” Dick J. Reavis with The Observer reported.


Reavis provided some numbers on the state of the Texas criminal justice system:

"The state of Texas operates 109 prisons holding about 148,000 inmates. Some 27,000 of them are, like Alonzo, over the age of 50. They account for about 18 percent of the prison population, and are the fastest-growing demographic group among prisoners. By most estimates, they are also the most expensive to keep under lock and key. According to TDCJ spokesman Robert Hurst, the average cost of housing Texas inmates is about $20,000 a year, but medical and end-of-life expenses hike that figure to some $30,000 for elderly inmates. In other jurisdictions, the cost is even higher. A 2012 report from the ACLU calculates the average national expense for keeping a prisoner at $34,000 per year — and twice that much, $68,000, for inmates older than 50."

Alonzo has been in solitary confinement since 1985, but he shares plenty of experiential knowledge of the accessibility and care in a state prison. Read more. [The Texas Observer]

  • Concluding his five-day trip to Mexico, Pope Francis will give a mass today near the border between Ciudad Juarez and El Paso. The Associated Press reported: “El Paso will close a portion of its border highway, several downtown neighborhoods and city government. The city estimates these moves will cost about $1 million. At least two El Paso school districts are also closing [today].” The Fort Worth Star-Telegram said, “Immigrant allies said the location of the visit is a strategic move. The U.S. border — the destination of thousands of migrants — will be within eyesight of the papal Mass in Mexico.” Read more. [AP, Star-Telegram]
  • Thousands of Texas A&M students wrote letters against racism after minority high schools students visiting campus said they were harassed. The Associated Press reported Tuesday: “Organizers hope to send 10,000 handwritten letters to students from a public charter school in Dallas, Uplift Hampton Preparatory, who toured A&M last week. Letter-writing stations were set up Monday on the College Station campus in the Student Government Association-supported effort against racism.” University officials are trying to figure which A&M students on Feb. 9 may have offended the high schoolers. Read more on the incident. [AP]


  • Dallas County officials approved a temporary measure Tuesday to provide water to the impoverished community of Sandbranch for two months. They’re also considering moving the residents as a long-term solution. The Dallas Morning News reported: “As a stop-gap, the county will pay $7,812 to provide continuous refills of 5-gallon water tanks for 50 households. That’s in partnership with a Methodist church group, which is providing the initial tanks and units.” The quality of water is now being tested with concerns of infection or illness among the community of 100 residents. Read more. [The Dallas Morning News]
  • Why is the weather so warm this week? The National Weather Service said to enjoy the unusually high temperatures this week because it doesn’t mean cold weather is gone for good. Nor does it necessarily mean DFW will have an early spring or extra hot summer.


Here’s the forecast for the week.