Monday, August 06, 2007

Kleberg jail 1/4 empty, still overcrowded

How can a county have a jail overcrowding problem with 1/4 of capacity vacant? By failing to properly staff occupied parts of the facility.

The Kleberg County jail is designed to hold 120 inmates, though it currently only houses 93. Even so, the county must send inmates to stay at other county jails because of understaffing. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards has threatened to shut down the jail if the problem continues, reports KRIS-TV. In response:
The [Kleberg commissioners] court debated on reducing the cost of running the jail and considered expanding programs like probation and community supervision to get prisoners out of jail sooner.

Commissioner Romeo Lomas said that speeding up the legal process for offenders will lower the number of inmates. He also said some prisoners spend months in jail waiting for their court appointed attorneys.

"Those attorneys like to walk the halls over there and get appointed, and they get paid, but they're not doing what they're supposed to do," Lomas said.
These snippets from the commissioners' discussion tell me Kleberg has barely scratched the surface looking for solutions to its jail overcrowding problem. Indeed, it sounds like officials only now are beginning to ask the right questions.

Why should arrestees wait months to see an attorney? The county could create a public defender office and move those cases through the process much more quickly.

Another solution might be to stop arresting as many people for low-level, non-violent offenses in the first place. Other counties are preparing now to implement a new law that takes effect Sept. 1 allowing police to give citations instead of arresting offenders for certain low-level offenses. That ought to provide significant relief.

The Sheriff blamed rising crime for the problem, which I think is a red herring; many of the Commission on Jail Standards complaints have to do with unsanitary conditions, which to me indicts the jail's management.

It's easy to be "tough on crime" when somebody else has to pay the bills. But running jails and prisons is an expensive proposition, and like so many other counties and the state itself, Kleberg officials are learning that at some point you must also be smart on crime, or else suck up and tell voters you must raise their taxes. Those interested in better options might start by perusing ideas other Texas counties have tried, recounted in these prior Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

I don't know how understaffed the Kleberg county jail is but let's suppose that the 27 empty beds is all they export to other counties. At $40 a day (conservative estimate) to house offenders outside the county, that comes to $259,000 a year. With staffing mandated by the commission at 1:48, they can't hire enough officers to man this place? Unbelievable.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

The KRIS piece said they'd require 8 new deputies to bring the jail to full staffing.

Anonymous said...

Someone should tell these County Court Commissioners that it is not a rise in crime but an increase in the activities that defined as "criminal".

The real crime is that the leadership has not taken the time to educate themselves. Criminal Justice costs in other counties are over 25% of the budget. It is the Commissioners job to know what is going on and how much it costs. It is their job to make sure tax moeny is spent in the best, most effecient way possible.

Seems like it is time for Kelberg County to get smart on crime!

Anonymous said...

You know what a MAJOR Kleberg County Sheriff's department problem is? I know first hand, I was a deputy there from 2005 til 2007, at one point there were only 3 unranked patrol deputies and 5 patrol sergeants, this doesnt include the other "brass" just walking the halls during the day. Everyone gets paid there, Everyone has stripes. There are nothing but EGOS within the Sheriff's department. The Sheriff's department having "high call volume?" Come on, working for a city and a sheriff's department are two different things, if you call "running around behind LT. Longoria" all day busy, then I guess they are. Take some brass out of there, bring those egos down just a tad, there are good officers within the department believe it or not, let them show the ideas they have!