Thursday, October 04, 2007

Architect: Voters should accept 9-figure pricetag for Smith County Jail

Voters last year rejected two smaller jail expansion proposals, but Smith County ineffably now supposes they'll support $125 million in bonds this November to expand the Smith County jail.

This week, the architect who designed the proposed jail told the Tyler Morning Telegraph that, "Those who argue the price tag is too high aren't familiar with the current construction market."

Well as someone who grew up in the Rose City, I'd argue that those who want to spend that much on more jail space aren't familiar with Tyler's anti-tax political environment. If Smith County voters overwhelmingly rejected a jail for $50 million less last year, why would they support a more expensive one now? Especially when the proposed jail, say proponents, supposedly will still be too small?

As described here and elsewhere on Grits, Smith County has more options than jail building to address overcrowding, and voters should demand they use them before approving new jail bonds. On Sunday the Longview News Journal reported that the Smith County Sheriff and Tyler Police Department will not allow their officers to use new discretion to give citations instead of arrest for low-level, non-violent offenders - the only bill passed at the Texas Legislature in 2007 aimed at reducing jail overcrowding. Why not, if the overcrowding problem is so bad it's worth borrowing $125 million to solve?

Just like in Nacogdoches, Tyler's jail overcrowding results from decisions by law enforcement and its elected leadership, especially the District Attorney and local judges, more than changing demographics or increasing crime. I hope Smith County voters reject these bonds, just like they did last year, and demand that their local political leadership change the way they do business before assuming nine-figure debt obligations on behalf of their constituents.

District Judge Cynthia Kent has proposed a number of viable solutions, and the one they've let her try has worked well. Her other ideas just need cooperation and funding, and would be less expensive than jail building, but they don't seem to be as urgent to county decision makers as funding bricks and mortar. I think it should be; if they want to sell this idea to what's perhaps the most virulent anti-tax constituency in the state, jail builders must be able to demonstrate they've tried everything else. Right now in Smith County that's not true.


Anonymous said...

Excellent article, and all counties should take note.

You wouldn't happen to know the best way to get ahold of crime rates by county over the last few years, would you?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks! Go to the Bureau of Justice Statistics and look for the Uniform Crime Reports.

Anonymous said...

I'm having a hard time locating useful county-wide crime rates. Any hints?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Try here.

Anonymous said...

That would be it, if my sheriff's dept. saw fit to submit reports. It is not on the list, for some reason.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Why don't you call their public information office and find out why? Maybe they can send some data.

Faith said...

Well, I don't actually consider this is likely to have success.