Thursday, August 25, 2011

Taxpayers pick up tab for empty would-be prison hospital

— Four years ago, state officials heralded the gift of a red brick hospital in a residential neighborhood, unveiling plans to convert the onetime Veterans Affairs center into a prison hospital for women.
Today, after funding for the project evaporated, the six-story building remains vacant. But Texas taxpayers continue to pick up the tab for maintaining the empty structure — $1.2 million and counting, officials said.
Prison officials said they are following the wishes of the Legislature, but a key lawmaker whose committee oversees the prison agency said keeping the building makes little sense in such tight budget times. Meanwhile, the female prisoners whom the hospital was intended to serve continue to be transported to the Gulf Coast when they require hospitalization.
"There are no plans to move ahead with that project at present, because there is no funding," said Brian Collier, deputy executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "The Legislature had it transferred to this agency. We are obligated to keeping it in a holding pattern until they decide what they want us to do with it."

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