Friday, October 26, 2007

'The Jail That Ate Tyler' and other stories

Here are a few items updating regular Grits themes I've noticed this week while I've been working on other stuff:

'The Jail That Ate Tyler'
The Tyler paper has been full of debate over whether to build a new 10-story jail downtown, including a thoughtful letter to the editor titled, "The Jail That Ate Tyler." Mary Lindsey writes:
One thing I have not heard anything about as we prepare to spend $125 million of taxpayer money is the growth rate in jail inmates.

Check this out: (adp means average daily population) 2000-01 - 811 adp; 2001 - 796 adp; 2002 - 792 adp; 2004 - 795 adp; 2005 - 925 adp (+130); 2006 - 1035 adp (+110).

Why the increase in jail population in 2005 and 2006? This is real important going forward. If you look at a seven-year window (2000 - 2006) this represents a 4.5 increase in ADP per year.

If this continues, by 2017 (11 years later) we will be looking at an ADP of 1,588. If we can't stop this trend we will not be able to build a jail large enough to keep up.

We don't need five acres (what our current plan calls for) we need 100 acres and a building format that is easy to expand. See what I mean by "The jail that ate Tyler?" I am so glad I live in a country where we can agree to disagree and settle issues by voting.
I was flattered that my father, who still lives in Tyler, mentioned receiving several comments about the piece I wrote about the Tyler jail. "Without exception," he said, "they complimented your letter as being well-written and 'right on the point' regarding the issues involved." From what I've seen, and given overwhelming opposition to jail bonds last year, I predict jail buiders in Tyler will lose again this time at the ballot box. Of the county jail votes up on November 6, the one in Smith County is easily the most contentious.

Bryan jail bonds also on November ballot
Brazos County makes the fourth I've identified so far with a jail bond up before voters on Nov. 6 - this one for $55 million, up more than $20 million from earlier estimates. As elsewhere, the biggest source of jail overcrowding is expanded use of pretrial detention by local judges. New jail bonds will require the Brazos Commissioners Court to raise taxes to make annual debt payments. Voters in Harris, Smith, and Howard Counties also have jail bonds before them that day.

Galveston jail only profitable to run if overcrowded
Galveston can't find a private contractor willing to run its old jail after building an new one, though jail proponents touted prospective leasing fees as a revenue source that would offset new debt costs. Private prison contractors told the county it would be profitable to run at the overcrowded levels the county operated at under Texas Commission on Jail Standards variances, but not at its actual capacity of just over 500 inmates.

Is coverup worse than the crime for bribery?
A Texas helicopter firm, the Bristow Group, discovers that if you report bribing foreign governments to federal regulators, they won't punish you for it.

Lufkin school survey: Marijuana easy to get, kids try it young
In Lufkin, "More than 80 percent of local seniors say [marijuana] is 'easy to get' in Angelina County, according to the survey. The average age of first use among Texas students is 13.5 years old, according to the Texans Standing Tall Report Card, meaning most students are in middle school when they first try the drug."

'Smart on Crime' means smart on mental health
From what I've seen, Bexar County leads every other part of the state demonstrating how local officials should step up to address mental health needs, not just among criminal offenders and the community at large, but among their own employees. Not only are they creating a mental health court for recidivist offenders with unmet mental health needs, they're expanding insurance coverage for 3,000 county employees. Bully for them. I'm willing to bet both initiatives pay off in ways they can't even imagine yet.

More of the same on TYC privatization front
Having just sat through a hearing where TYC leaders and the Senate Criminal Justice Committee listened to hours of testimony about lack of oversight at private youth prisons, squalid conditions discovered at a facility contracting with the Texas Youth Commission, and the dangers of relying on corrections spending for rural economic development, why should it surprise me to read that TYC may contract with a private jail in Brownfield outside of Lubbock to house its youngest offenders aged 10-13. Reported the Lubbock Avalanche Journal, "The project also would bring about $1 million in annual payroll to the town, according to Jack Cargill, Brownfield's director of economic development. 'It would be a great deal to us because we would get about 45 employees,' Cargill said."

Hey, I have an idea: Let's repeat the same stupid mistakes over and over again and call it "reform"!

Hunting and overcriminalization
Mike Leggett at the Austin Statesman sounds surprised to learn that increasing the penalty to a state jail felony didn't eliminate deer poaching in Texas. Nor did increasing penalties for shooting road signs to a third degree felony stop hunters from using them to sight in their scopes. "Poachers once held, and still do in some areas of the state, a kind of exalted place in hunting circles," writes Leggett. "Whether they poached for meat or trophies, there was a kind of Robin Hood aura that some of them wore. It was misplaced, of course, because it was still poaching and was still against the law, even if local judges often looked the other way when the cases got to court."

Sunset Self-Evaluations
Finally, for those with an interest, here are the self-evaluations submitted to the Texas Sunset Commission for criminal justice agencies under Sunset review in the coming year:


JT Barrie said...

Yeah, but it sure makes one feel good to vote for someone who wants to sock it to "those people". IF we didn't have a disconnect between taxes and spending every one of those mass incarceration scams would depend on a tax increase to fund it. It really doesn't make one feel happy when "those people" are taxpayers who have to fund these scams.

Anonymous said...

The TYC Brownfield deal sure sounds like economical development to me - community leaders are all but celebrating their economic windfall right now!