Just over a decade ago, prisons were a growth industry, and Texas was the undisputed king. The state corrections system was the largest in the free world, brimming with more than 162,000 convicts at one point. County jails were adding new cells aplenty. And private prisons sprang up like mushrooms after a rainstorm, angling for contracts to hold thousands of illegal immigrants and convicts from other states. But the prison crown has lost its luster, thanks to falling crime rates and new-found success in rehabilitation. There aren’t enough convicts to fill all the cells built by the state, counties and private contractors who thought the flow of inmates would never end. The state corrections system now has more than 11,000 empty bunks. One state prison has closed, and two more are on the chopping block. County jails have more than 21,000 empty beds of their own. And those once-flourishing private lockups? Several stand empty, as do at least four of the six former state juvenile prisons that were shuttered two years ago.
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