The Great Texas Prison Mess

During the gargantuan buildup of the Texas Prison System, everyone wanted in on the action—even Andy Collins, the boss himself. Here’s how greed, fear, and VitaPro produced the state’s costliest scandal.

IT WAS THE STUPIDEST THING THE STATE of Texas has ever done,” Andy Collins said about his crowning achievement, his oversight of the greatest expansion of prison beds in the history of the free world. “The public was absolutely hoodwinked into thinking that the only way the crime problem could ever be solved was prosecution and incarceration. We should’ve been interceding at an earlier age, dealing with these kids before they ever became crooks. But instead, we’re just taking juveniles and feeding them directly into the system. I mean, look who was behind it all. Prosecutors, cops, politicians—all of them with a self-serving agenda.

And the media,” Collins declared as he leaned over the patio table at his suburban home just north of Houston, delivering the accusation with a martyr’s relish. “The goddam media did as much as anyone to build all those prisons because they fanned the flames of public hysteria. The issue of crime has become entertainment. Turn on the TV. Cops. Rescue 911. That kind of crap.”

As recently as last December, Collins had been the most powerful bureaucrat in Texas, the executive director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice ( TDCJ). Now it was March, and with news of scandal breaking all around him, his brief second career as a prison consultant was in shambles. By all rights he should have been a basket case. But here he was, wearing the standard yuppie regalia of khakis, loafers, and tortoiseshell glasses, puffing appreciatively on a long cigar, and sipping at a single-malt Scotch while his dachshund yapped away in the back yard and two of his daughters appeared on the patio to hit up their dad for movie money. The tableau was eerily serene; the 45-year-old Midland native with the well-padded cheeks and preadolescent grin was one hell of a lot tougher than he looked. He was placing calls to headhunters about job opportunities that had little to do with the way he had spent the past 23 years of his life, and former subordinates in Huntsville

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