Too many, for my tastes. Either county officials need to fix overcrowding problems at the jail, or else the Chronicle needs to buy its headline writers a thesaurus. I'm guessing "both" might be too much to ask for.
At least reporter Bill Murphy spiced up the story with poignant analysis from the just-released Justice Policy Institute report (pdf) on local jails, which he said "appeared in line" with Harris County's experience. Let's just identify a few highlights from Murphy's story. For starters, he buried his lead, leaving this startling statistic until the final lines of the story:
Two years ago, the county spent $154 million on detention, Raycraft said.A 1/4 cost increase in two years is an astonishing, unsustainable growth rate. No wonder Harris County voters were reticent to give the Sheriff a bigger jail to manage!
This year, it will spend $192 million, a 24 percent increase. The costs will continue to rise if the county builds more jails and hires the guards needed to operate them.
Harris County's Jail as of yesterday was 1,000 inmates above capacity, plus another 600 inmates are housed in Louisiana at a cost of $9 million per year in fees to a private vendor.
Also in line with JPI's findings, Murphy writes, a large proportion of the Harris County Jail population are mentally ill or homeless, who require both more services and security:
Surely there's little question the Harris County Jail is the biggest "homeless shelter in the state." It's hard to think what might even be a close second.
About 15 percent to 20 percent of the county inmates are prescribed psychotropic medication to treat mental health conditions, said Chief Deputy Mike Smith, who oversees jail operations.
"They are a more problematic inmate," he said. "They require more services. They can be a threat to themselves and a threat to others." ...The number of homeless in the county jail also is increasing, Smith said. "We are probably becoming the biggest homeless shelter in the state," he said.
I've written extensively in the past about why the Harris County Jail is overcrowded, so I'll not reiterate it here (except to provide links below). But Murphy supplies a great example for other beat reporters, combining routine coverage of the local jail with analysis from this national study to provide context and a framework for analyzing the subject. If you read through the JPI report, there's a better than very good chance many of the causes and consequences of jail overcrowding they discuss apply to your local jail, too.
Kuff adds his thoughts here.
See prior, related Grits coverage:
- DOJ investigating Harris County Jail
- Marc Levin: What should Harris County do now that jail bonds have failed?
- Counties that rejected new jails must now get serious about diversion
- Pretrial detention, unnecessary incarceration driving Texas jail overcrowding
- Bail blunders boost bulging Harris jail population
- Extra bail conditions: When tough on crime means tough on taxpayers
- Should county government subsidize bail bond companies?
- Lack of counsel, information are bail barriers
- Harris County detains low-risk offenders for no reason
- Homegrown Harris Jail Jam: Jailed probationers swell inmate numbers
- Harris revokes probation most among big Texas counties
- TPPF: Counties must act to prevent overincarceration
- Harris County officials wrongly think they'll build their way out of jail overcrowding
- Harris Sheriff makes jail overcrowding worse with optional immigration inmates
- Sheriff disingenuous to claim no cost for jailing immigrants