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.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.
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.
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: