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For the first time in its history, Texas is taking the steps to shutter a prison — a creaky, 102-year-old lockup southwest of Houston once made famous in the folk song “Midnight Special.” Seventy-one corrections employees will start new jobs today at other lockups, the first of several groups to leave.

Half the state away in Brownwood, a Texas Youth Commission lockup for teenage lawbreakers sits empty, one of three juvenile prisons closed effective Sunday as part of a state plan to focus mostly on community-based rehabilitation and treatment programs.

The empty cells were once unthinkable in a tough-on-crime state like Texas that once couldn’t build prisons fast enough.

Texas joins a nationwide trend of shutting expensive state prisons, driven partly by red ink in state budgets, partly by a drop in convict numbers (with the lowest crime rate since 1973) and partly by a policy shift from lock-’em-up justice to rehabilitation programs.

Source: Mike Ward for Statesman.com.

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