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The Gurney Unit prison is operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in Tennessee Colony.

Citing a significant decrease in statewide prison inmate population, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice announced the temporary closure of two units, including one in the Palestine area.

On Tuesday, an announcement stated TDCJ is beginning the process of temporarily consolidating inmates and staff from both Gurney Unit in Palestine and the Neal Unit in Amarillo to neighboring facilities to idle the Gurney and Neal units.

According to TDCJ, the decision was made in light of a “statewide decreased inmate population not seen in 25 years.”

TDCJ stated the inmate population was at about 156,000 inmates in 2011, and now there are about 122,000 — the lowest level since 1995. Since this January the number of people entering the TDCJ system has decreased by roughly 18,000.

“This decline makes it possible to temporarily consolidate staff and inmates from the Gurney and Neal Units without negatively affecting public safety,” the TDCJ statement said.

The Gurney Unit has served as a transfer facility since 1993 and can hold 2,128 inmates, while the Neal Unit opened in 1994 and can hold 1,732 inmates.

Both units will be idled soon and repopulated as the inmate population returns to levels seen before COVID-19. The staff from the Gurney Unit will move to the other units in the Palestine area Coffield, Michael, Powledge and Beto, where vacancies exist.

Staff from the Neal Unit will go to the Clements Unit in Amarillo, where there are staff vacancies.

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I came to the Tyler Morning Telegraph in September 2019. I report on crime, courts, breaking news and various events in Tyler and East Texas.