Sugar Land prison considered for closure

January 19, 2011 2:53:38 PM PST
It's something people have been wanting for years. Now there are new talks of closing down a big state prison in Sugar Land. The prison near Highway 6 and Highway 90 is near the airport and several neighborhoods. The central prison unit has been a Fort Bend County fixture since 1909, but to nearby homeowners it is an unwelcome neighbor.

Homeowner Yenni Kuncoro said, "I think it's better that the prison is out of the neighborhood area because it's a safety for the children. Also the surrounding neighborhood is more secure."

Now the unit is the subject of discussion at the Capitol in Austin. With the state trying to tighten its belt in the wake of a massive budget shortfall, selling off this prime real estate that sits on 337 acres on Highway 90 is, to some lawmakers, a no brainer.

Rep. Charles Howard said, "There is no question at all that this property is prime potential for development which would bring in more jobs and more value and thus help the city and the county and the state."

Howard is all for the proposed closure of the unit in September, with possible redevelopment as a business park. The city of Sugar Land and local business leaders are also on board.

"There would be generation of additional taxes both for our school district, the county, and the state of Texas if this property was put on the tax rolls," said Sugar Land City Manager Allen Bogard.

The unit is more than a century old. It is expensive to run, and it also generates zero tax dollars. A recently built business park has generated 9,000 jobs and much needed tax revenue.

Bogard explained, "We are talking about a business park like Sugar Land business park with a range of businesses that are both office distribution and manufacturing."

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice says housing the inmates could be a challenge, with overcrowding at other units. Employees at the unit wouldn't talk on camera but one captain says he wouldn't mind being relocated as long as he keeps his job.