Thursday, May 07, 2009

Counties seek help on jail crowding, diversion

Two stories today related to county jail overcrowding caught my eye:

In my hometown of Tyler, Smith County officials have decided to forego a fourth vote on a new jail for the time being, with County Judge Joel Baker declaring, "Now is not the best time to bring up the bond option, so we have to find other ways to stop the bleeding."

That's good news. Jail proponents got their butts whipped in Smith County elections three years running, so it's definitely time they gave it a rest.

There ARE ways for Smith and other counties with overcrowding problems to reduce the "bleeding," though, if courts and jails utilize more diversion programs, focusing use of the jail more on safety concerns and less on money making ventures.

Meanwhile, the Dallas News today has an editorial about their jail's problems calling for the creation of a new position at the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to consult with counties about jail diversion. The paper opined that an independent view would be more constructive than a consultant beholden to the commissioners court who might tell them whatever they want to hear. (I tend to agree, though I think TCJS might need to be budgeted more than one person for that role if they're going to cover the entire state.)

The opinion piece was timed to coincide with a TCJS meeting in Austin today. Wrote the Dallas News editorial board:

The immediate problem is today in Austin, where several Dallas County officials will attempt to convince the jail commission board that they're doing all they can to reach compliance.

In immediate jeopardy is a 15-year-old variance that allows the county to exceed bed limits in the jail tower with serious, persistent fire-safety problems. If the board isn't convinced, it could order the county to move about 900 inmates out of the North Tower. County Judge Jim Foster estimates the cost at $4 million a month.

"They're tired of being told what we're doing," he says. "They want results."

Our suggestion is that they get behind Munoz's program specialist plan, which so far has survived the budget knives. If county commissioners want to add another consultant on top of that, fine. As many fresh eyes as possible for an increasingly tired problem.

RELATED: Here's a list of the 5 counties currently sending the most overflow inmates to other jails and private contractors:
  • Harris: 1,021 inmates
  • Fort Bend: 314
  • Lubbock: 234
  • Smith: 148
  • Bexar: 76
Much of this results from choices by elected officials, not capacity shortages. All but one of these counties incarcerates its citizens at higher rates than the statewide average:
  • Harris: 3.11 per 1,000
  • Fort Bend: 2.20
  • Lubbock: 3.74
  • Smith: 4.22
  • Bexar: 2.87
  • Statewide: 2.63


Rich said...

Texas has got to turn back the hands of time on jailing and imprisoning people. Enough is enough. The last thing we need in Houston is another jail. 10,000 inmates? For what? I would love to see a breakdown on the charges that have these people in jail. T-e-n T-h-o-u-s-a-n-d !! That's a hell of a lot of people.

editor said...

That was Judge Joel Baker who said that, not Judge Rogers.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I fixed the name, thanks.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree about Harris county. When my son was in jail in August 08, section of the jail were closed because there was a small pox breakout I also personally know of someone who went to jail (monitor violation again) and although the violation later proved to be a malfunction, it took 1 month to clear him and he came out with TB. The food there horrible and now the inmates are not funished something as simple as a t-shirt or sock. All these items must be purchased through the commissary adding extra espense to family memember and what about these inmates that don't have family member to help.

Harris county is paid a fee from what I understand on a daily basis for every that really true.

As the mother of someone who's been in Harris County it is really heartbearking. I know they have to pay for their crimes, I have no problem with that, but must they be treated like animals?

Anonymous said...

It's all about kingdoms. DA's, sheriffs, whoever, they all see themselves as kings of their own little kingdoms. The more people they have locked up, the bigger their kingdoms. Most don't realize that those kingdoms will only last a short time. The Kingdom of God is the only kingdom that will last.

Chris said...

Solution to jail overcrowding. STOP locking people up on simple possession dope charges. Give em a ticket and make em sign a promise to appear. Make bonding affordable to pre-trial offenders and use home detention and monitoring when possible. This prison-industrial complex is becoming frightening. 112 prisons and a 10,000 inmate system in Houston? Something has got to give.

editor said...

Have you seen this?: .
Judge Baker is trying another plan. No word on diversion programs.