wants to see the county go with a plan that involves private financing to keep the tax payers from having to pay to increase the size of the jail. Getting free land at the airport would help that happen, he said.This is an unbelievably bad idea based on an economically flawed premise, that taxpayers won't "foot the bill for the jail."
When trustees questioned why the county didn't use its own land at the airport, Bynum said the answer is simple. The land that the college owns doesn't sit as close to the runway as the county property does.
Building the jail on the county property, Bynum said, might (his emphasis) mean that some companies that might have otherwise looked at the airport would go somewhere else.
Bynum noted that the college has some land behind the Viticulture Building that would be a good place for the jail. He said 50 acres would be great for a jail built to accommodate up to 1,500 inmates.
Trustees asked why the county needed to build such a large jail when the county doesn't need that many beds. Bynum explained that a private company would have to build many more beds than Grayson County needs to be able to make a profit off the jail. He said the additional beds then would be offered to other entities at prices above what Grayson County would pay.
Trustees wanted to know if the county had considered just building to suit its needs and not worrying about the private funding. Bynum said all options have been considered, but he doesn't want to see tax payers foot the bill for the jail.
Of course they will! For starters, he's asking the college to give some private company the land for free. But even more than that, for the company to pay its construction debt, the county must pay for its prisoners, which means it must pay the cost of housing the inmates (which it would have to pay anyway) PLUS the company's profits.
Whether the county or a private contractor operates the facility, it still must meet minimum standards set by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, so it won't be any cheaper to operate (except to the extent that a private company pays its employees less than deputies make - a marginal benefit at best in the scheme of things that's wiped out if the company takes a profit).
And of course, if the company can't find other entities willing to lease the beds at an inflated price, the county will be stuck with the full tab for space it doesn't need, since it will still need to operate a jail.
What the Judge proposes is a massive gamble his county should reject. Let John McCain be elected and get immigration reform, for example, and the private prison market could see a massive glut in Texas overnight as detention centers empty.
Like other Texas counties, Grayson could solve its short-term jail crisis just by reducing its rate of pretrial detention. Grayson lies at the extreme end of a statewide trend of increased pretrial detention. Statistician Tony Fabelo reported recently that "overall jail population increased 18.6% between 2000-2007, he said, the number of pretrial detainees increased 49.2% over the same period." A consultant hired by the county found that 73% of jail inmates were pretrial detainees, meaning they had been convicted of no crime and could leave if they could afford bail.
From these numbers I don't think Grayson actually needs to build a new jail. But if they did, taxpayers are better off if the county just builds the jail that it needs. It doesn't make sense to me to subsidize some speculative mega-jail as an entrepreneurial venture, and I hope Judge Bynum's colleagues on the commissioners court shoot it down.