Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Feds want to set up shop in Texas jails, but county commissioners ask who will pay?

Sheriffs who want to allow immigration officials to detain more immigrants in local Texas jails are running up against a backlash from county commissioners who don't want to foot the bill for federal detainees.

I'd identified that problem earlier when Harris County Sheriff Tommy Thomas proposed such a change as part of his primary re-election campaign. Now the Travis County Sheriff is facing criticism over the same issue from civil rights advocates and his commissioners court, reports KVUE-TV:

Jim Harrington, the Director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, says he's skeptical.

"The county jail is already overflowing," says Harrington. "And the feds are going to build another jail for Travis County to account for all of these people that will be detained? No chance that will happen."

Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe says it's a controversial issue, and he wants to wait until he hears from all sides before making a final decision.

"I don't think we would eagerly promote immigration holds on people especially for minor offenses," says Biscoe.

So far Travis Sheriff Greg Hamilton is sticking to his guns, but the decision to increase immigration holds for minor offenses at a time when the local jail is full makes little sense to me. As Harrington points out, it's not like the feds will pay to build us more jail space.

Similarly, in Dallas proposals by GOP Sheriffs candidates for a similar arrangement met with skepticism from the commissioners court who would have to find the money to pay for extra bed space. Said Commissioner John Wiley Price, according to the Dallas News,
"I don't need anything that's going to increase the jail population."

In Austin the debate has devolved into accusations of whether this practice constitutes racial profiling. To me, that's not nearly as strong an argument as emphasizing the immediate, pragmatic issue that none of these jails - in Austin, Dallas or Houston - have any extra space for uncompensated federal prisoners.

It's one thing to suffer a jail overcrowding problem because of the decisions of the local judicial system; it's quite another for Sheriffs to seek out new categories of optional inmates to fill up their jails volitionally.

13 comments:

JT Barrie said...

Jails don't grow on trees - except in GOP land. Clap if you believe in the Mass Incarceration Fairy - who will pay for these jails! Don't expect the lapdogs in the media to mention this as "more pork barrel spending". They believe that jails are NOT government spending [they are true believers].

Anonymous said...

Scott...I agree as much as anyone with the danger of sliding down the slope into racial profiling, etc., but if you listen to Hamilton's testimony yesterday, he made two things clear (unless I misheard, which is possible), first, the number of folks brought in for Class C offenses who are referred to ICE is no larger right now than it has been in the past. Second, the minute the folks with detainers are able to get out of jail, if they have an ICE detainer, ICE pays the county for them until they come to get them. So calling them uncompensated is a stretch. Inconvenienced, maybe, but not uncompensated.

Also, doesn't a sheriff take an oath to protect and defend the constitution of the US and TX, and not just those laws he/she agrees with? I think that jury nuliffication is a fine thing in the legal system, but to have law enforcement state that they would look the other way is a bit more dangerous to me.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

anon 8:18, if that's what Hamilton said about the jail numbers, I don't think he's right. Here's what the Statesman reported about the new policy:

"The increased presence has led agents to double — if not triple — the number of "immigration holds" it has traditionally placed on Travis County inmates for possible deportation, said Adrian Ramirez, assistant field office director for the San Antonio office of the federal immigration agency." So the agency placing the holds said they'd increased.

You're correct that "uncompensated" was an error (and I corrected that misstatement in the post with a strike). But the main point stands that our jail is already full of our own prisoners, so expanding the number of federal ones, even if compensated, puts more strain on the system.

As Harrington said, the feds are not going to build us new jail space - they're just going to push policies that force Travis County to pay for it.

As for upholding the Constitution, etc., his oath also requires him not to maintain a dangerously overcrowded jail. Sometimes we have conflicting responsibilities.

I mentioned the other day that 24% of Travis County's jail inmates are pretrial misdemeanants and state jail felons, the highest percentage among large TX counties. IMO the Sheriff needs to be looking for ways to reduce the number of low-level pretrial offenders in the jail, not increase it. best,

Anonymous said...

The Federal Government has obtainted from the States with money what they could not obtain under the Constitution.

County jails may cooperate with ICE to hold illegal immigrants that have been aprehended in an effort to protect the county's citizens.

The potential problem is that ICE will bring immigrants that they have captured (who knows where)to the county jails when there is no other violation of law charged.

That is the "bad idea". If ICE wants to hold immigrants that do not have a legal right to be in the US, they should figure out how to do that without overburdening the County facilities.

The county jails are built and paid for by the citizens of the counties. Use of these jails should be reserved for the protection of the individual counties citizens.

The Federal Congress needs to find a way to solve the immigration problem that does not include throwing everyone in jail!

el_longhorn said...

Tough issue. I am very pro-immigrant, but if you commit a serious crime (Class A misdemeanor or higher?), you suffer the consequences. However, the potential for this policy deterring immigrants from reporting crimes is my most serious concern.

Shouldn't the new ticket writing policy for POM have a substantial effect on jail overcrowding?

mcmc said...

HB 2391 was not written to address jail overcrowding (some hope it will be an added bonus, though). It will only work if used though and most Texas counties are NOT using it. It is written in voluntary terms and counties are not mandated to adhere to it. It is being used in Austin, albeit sparingly, and the kinks are still being worked out. Doubt we will see jail overcrowding benefits quite yet...

W. W Woodward said...

This one's easy. The sheriff & commissioners court will contract with a private prison to hold the county's prisoners at $35.00/day and then rent county jail beds out to the feds for up to $80.00/day.

If you don't think that's going on, I'm sorry to bust your bubble.

rage said...

Funny. I guess Austin, the bastion of liberalism, continues to be the most racist in terms of incarceration.

New Motto: Keep Austin White

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Rage, it's ever been thus.

rage said...

Yeah, I've been keeping track of incarceration rates for a while too, and that's the stat I like to bring up to anyone who tries to tell me that Austin is the only "liberal" part of Texas.

They never believe me.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

rage, You've hit upon a prime reason I think those terms liberal and conservative and the whole idea of a left/right continuum - which dates in current usage to the French Revolution - just don't mean much anymore and IMO don't describe modern politics very adequately. In my experience, on criminal justice there's a longstanding bipartisan consensus between Big Government Liberals and Tuff-on-Crime Conservatives that defies traditional ideological or partisan descriptions.

rage said...

just don't mean much anymore

Been saying this since the Gingrich revolution.

Not sure when "conservative" belief meant large, intrustive government and intrusions into civil rights.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"Not sure when "conservative" belief meant large, intrusive government and intrusions into civil rights."

Good question! Personally I think the break came with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Anti-Communism was a bipartisan unifying force, and once Communism was gone, the wheels came off of any high-level bipartisan governing coalition, allowing long-submerged ideological divisions in both parties (and in world geopolitics as a whole) to emerge with a furious vengeance.

When conservatives defined their definitions of "freedom" as compared to Communist totalitarian dictatorships, they felt compelled to defend civil liberties. Today many retain that same sense of smug moral superiority, but emulate the tactics they formerly despised.

Before 1989, conservatives didn't want to look like "them" - i.e, the Communists. Now the Cold War is nearly 20 years past, and most people don't remember what it was about "them" we weren't supposed to emulate. So ignorance and opportunism today too often substitutes for learnedness and principle.

I've often thought these incongruities on the right in the post-Cold War era must keep Ronald Reagan spinning in his grave like a pig on a spit. His '86 "amnesty" on immigration was the only possible rational "conservative" response, as IMO it is today.