After two decades of costly litigation, a federal judge has turned control of Texas' growing prison system back over to state officials.

U.S. District Judge William Wayne Justice last week signed the order releasing control of the 50,000-inmate prison system back to the state for the first time since 1980.

He originally put the corrections system under federal jurisdiction after ruling that a lawsuit filed by inmate David Ruiz was correct in alleging that the system violated the Constitution's ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

In the ensuing years, Texas was forced to change the way it runs its prisons and to spend tens of millions of new funds on the system.

At the same time, voters combined two general obligation bond issues totaling $2 billion to expand the prison system after the court ruled it was crowded.

That capital plan will ultimately double the state's prison population to nearly 92,000 inmates and, it has been estimated, will add more than $1 billion a year in operation costs to the state budget by the end of the decade.

State officials said they were pleased to have direct control of the prison system again, though they acknowledged the court will continue to monitor its operations.

"The settlement of the Ruiz lawsuit is a historic milestone in our efforts to bring order out of the chaos that has dogged our prison system for more than two decades," said Gov. Ann Richards.

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