Thursday, May 7, 2009

Harris County Sheriff wants a new jail

Newly elected Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia's solution for the failing grades the Harris County Jail has received is to build a new one -- an idea that area voters rejected back in 2007.

Persistent problems at the Harris County Jail will cease only with the construction of a new facility, Sheriff Adrian Garcia said today after negotiating with state officials to keep the downtown lockup running despite its failure of a recent inspection.

Garcia appeared before the state Commission on Jail Standards to outline plans to address the problems that prompted inspectors to fail the jail after a visit in April, including broken intercoms that cut off communication between deputies and 90 percent of inmates held on two floors of one building.

It was the fourth time in six years that state inspectors failed the jail, which remains under federal investigation and faces local scrutiny over controversial deaths and access to medical care.

Garcia outlined short-term fixes, but stressed that construction of a new building for a detention system that already holds more than 10,000 people will be inevitable. Two years ago, before Garcia took office, voters narrowly rejected a $245 million bond referendum to build a 2,500-bed jail.

“Today is an indication of how pressing the need is,” Garcia said. “We are going to have to have a conversation about the future and make sure we don’t propose a jail that doesn’t meet the needs of the county.”

The current jail is overcrowded and understaffed. The solution to the county's problem is not to build yet another jail - the solution is to examine the policies of the criminal courts in setting bonds too high and denying personal bonds in minor drug possession cases. 

The purpose of bail is not to punish the accused but only to ensure that the citizen accused appears in court. The current policies of the criminal courts in Harris County only ensures that the jail will remain overcrowded and citizens will be subject to violations of their rights.

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