Saturday, November 24, 2007

Texas Jail News Roundup

I wanted to reference readers to several important Texas jail-related news items I noticed recently:

Dallas Sheriff to commissioners court: Jail labor isn't free
Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez responds to criticisms that her jail is too generous giving low-level offenders good time credit, declaring the policy was in place long before she got there, and that she'd be happy to change it if county commissioners (one of whom, Kenneth Mayfield, was the main critic of the policy) would fork over a few million dollars extra per year to pay for it. Bully for her. The biggest irony: It'd be a lot cheaper to pay free-world workers for road cleanup than to fill up the jail solely for the purpose of extracting "free" labor that actually costs a lot more in the big picture. Another irony, at the same time county commissioners are berating the Sheriff for not keeping enough low-level offenders in jail to staff work crews, they're financing new, progressive jail diversion programs aimed at keeping just those type of offenders out of jail in the first place. Go figure.

Bexar jail strip search policy challenged

Bexar County has been sued over the jail's policy of strip searching every single inmate booked into the facility. Reported WOAI radio: Attorneys in the case "said they've tried cases like this before in other parts of the country and won. The most recent case was in New Jersey, where the attorneys said their clients were awarded millions of dollars."

Bexar Sheriff corruption may pave way for 'tent city'
An unexpected consequence of the resignation of the Bexar County Sheriff on corruption charges: The Commissioners Court has appointed as an interim replacement someone who supports their pet "tent jail" proposal which the previous Sheriff opposed. I've written before how foolish this is from a pure public-safety perspective: There's a reason jails have walls. Commissioners should wait until Bexar has another elected Sheriff, and not use the opportunity of a lame-duck puppet Sheriff to push through a bad idea.

Burnet residents oppose entrepreneurial jail
In Burnet County, local officials say they've outgrown their 98 bed jail, and so want to build a new facility six times the size of the current one, with the stated intention of turning it into an entrepreneurial enterprise housing out of county inmates. Problem is, people who live where they want to put the new jail don't want it:
Local residents are opposed to the new facility, which primarily would house violators awaiting trial in the county or serving out sentences on county offenses. So many people turned out to debate the possible new jail Monday night that the fire marshal had to get involved. A decision whether to use the site for a jail should happen sometime early next year.
Building a jail so much bigger than the county needs makes the county reliant on the current jail and prison boom continuing ad infinitum, or at least over the next 15-20 years while they're making bond payments. Maybe it will. So far other counties making that assumption have been lucky. But personally I don't believe the current growth in Texas' incarceration rate is sustainable, either pragmatically, socially or economically, so Burnet County: If 10 years down the line you find yourself making large debt payments on a half-empty jail, don't say nobody warned you. It's a bad idea, and not just for NIMBY reasons.

UTMB rejected for Beaumont jail healthcare contract
In Beaumont, Jefferson County Commissioners rejected a bid by UTMB Galveston to operate jail healthcare, relying instead on a company called NaphCare. The reason given: "UTMB doesn't offer indemnity protection, which NaphCare does, and CHM's best offer was $500,000 more than NaphCare's price." I'm interested in this because, in my opinion, UTMB's record providing healthcare in carceral settings has generally been very poor at the state prison system, at the Texas Youth Commission, and when they operated the jail healthcare in Dallas so poorly it drew down federal litigation. Whatever reason Jefferson County rejected UTMB, I think other counties and ultimately the state should revisit whether UTMB is up to the task. Their experimental reliance on "telemedicine" generates poor outcomes, and when they're questioned about poor results, all you hear are mealy-mouthed excuses.

Third time likely not a charm for Smith County Jail
Voters have rejected new jails two years in a row in Tyler, but County Commissioners are already making plans to put the idea on the ballot a third time. Personally, I think Smith County Commissioners are taking the wrong message from these two ridiculously lopsided votes against new jail building. I once predicted that votes rejecting a new jail in Smith County may become an annual affair, kind of like Tyler's Azalea Trail, and that may indeed turn out to be the case.


Anonymous said...

After suffering for ten years with UTMB health care, I can say with some certainty it's all about the money. While there are a lot of good, competent nurses, PA's and docs working for them, money is more important than an inmate getting sufficient health care.

Anonymous said...

Ben Raimer, Chief Physician Executive, UTMB Correctional Managed Care, is about an capable of managing prison care contracts as ex Dr. Stobo was at managing UTMB. Relying mainly on telemedicine has saved money, but does not provided adequate clinical care that should be provided.