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Texas Considers Early Prison Release for Nonviolent Foreigners

Nonviolent foreign citizens in prison and eligible for parole and old, ill convicts could be released early as Texas lawmakers try to close a projected $15 billion budget shortfall. 

Other proposed budget cuts include closing at least two prisons and slashing rehabilitation programs.

John Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, said the state does not have the resources to continue business as usual in Texas.

"Everything is on the table for discussion this year. Everything," said Whitmire, whose panel oversees Texas prisons.

Texas House Corrections Committee chairman Jerry Madden said any decision should not compromise public safety.

"No one's in favor of that," he said.

Police, prosecutors and crime victims groups are urging caution in paroling inmates.

"If they want to get rid of the dopers, OK. The drunks, hot check artists, the thieves, OK," said William "Rusty" Hubbarth, an Austin lawyer with Justice for All, a Houston-based crime victims group. "But they should keep all the sex offenders and the 3G (violent) offenders right where they are. They don't need to go anywhere."

A 2009 legislative study urged that additional medical paroles be considered.

Almost 12,000 foreign nationals, mostly from Mexico, are in Texas prisons. About 3,000 were behind state bars as of December for nonviolent or drug offenses, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. All were listed as parole-eligible and are targeted for deportation on release.

The Austin American-Statesman reported that sending them all home could save more than $54 million a year.

"The big fear has been that the Mexican nationals would come back into Texas, but we could make it a condition of their parole that if they came back, they would go back to prison," Whitmire said. "My guess is we'd never see these people again. Prisons are no party in Texas. Why would anyone want to come back and risk going back in the joint for a longer sentence?"

Officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement declined comment.

State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa says nonviolent foreign nationals should be sent home.

"They're costing us a huge amount of money," Hinojosa said. "Let's get rid of them."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.