Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Harris County to ship inmates to other Texas counties

The Houston Chronicle reported today that Harris County is on the verge of entering into an agreement with four other counties to house Harris County inmates who have been convicted and are waiting transfer to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and inmates who were convicted of state jail felonies but sentenced to misdemeanor time.

The Harris County Jail complex was built to house 9,400 inmates - the current jail population is a staggering 11,251 (as of August 10, 2009).

Currently the county is paying Louisiana $38 per person/per day to house 1,046 inmates who are serving misdemeanor sentences on state jail convictions. That figure doesn not include transportation or medical care expenses.

The contracts with Bowie, Dickens, Jefferson and Newton Counties calls for a payment of between $42.25 and $45 per prisoner/per day, including transportation and medical care expenses. All in all Harris County plans on spending $16.5 million to house up to 2,100 inmates for up to six months as a way of alleviating overcrowding.

Harris County Commission Steve Radack said that the county should be able to find additional space in other counties at bargain prices as the crime rate drops. No word on whether he made the comment with a straight face. Let's see, crime rate falling, inmate population in Harris County rising... what's wrong with this picture?

Here's an idea, Steve, instead of shipping inmates all over East Texas, why not put pressure on the Harris County District Attorney's Office to issue personal bonds on Class B misdemeanor drug possession cases? Then the officers can issue a citation with a promise to appear. Let's issue personal bonds (cite and release) people charged with driving on a suspended license.
“I think we'll get it into compliance, whether by sending out inmates to other jurisdictions, or building a massive new jail. If we started tomorrow to design a new jail, by the time you got it designed and engineered, it'd take three years. So, frankly, you're going to have to do something in the interim anyway. If you look at cost of a new facility, the cost of labor to run it, many times it's going to be cheaper to go to someone else who needs the income because they have overbuilt the capacity of their jail, and they need the money. They need to pay their bonds, their debt, and they're out looking.” - Steve Radack, Harris County Commissioner, Precinct 3

That's it, Steve. Let's just follow the money.

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