Friday, May 09, 2008

Elected officials to blame for Harris jail overcrowding, says editorial

Earlier this week Grits placed the blame for Harris County jail overcrowding at the feet of their elected officials, especially local judges, and an editorial this morning in the Houston Chronicle agreed, concluding:

A large part of the jail overcrowding problem resides with the elected judges here. They don't make good use of pre-trial release and other jail diversion programs that allow minor, nonviolent offenders to return to their jobs and families while awaiting trial.

Some judges set up defendants to fail, making the terms of their probation so onerous that successful completion is unlikely. A minor infraction can send a probationer back to jail and then to prison to serve a long sentence.

The Legislature is also to blame. Over the years it has made too many minor offenses felonies. Judges are allowed to set high, unattainable bail, dooming many indigent inmates to months or years of jail time before they have a chance to make their case in court.

Voters in November rejected a bond issue to expand the jail by 2,500 beds, rejecting the notion of placing more Harris County residents needlessly and pointlessly behind bars. That leaves the criminal justice system here with the duty to reduce jail overcrowding by decreasing the number of inmates.

I've gotta say, it seems like the terms of debate on criminal justice topics may be shifting when a major daily is editorializing the Legislature is "to blame" for increasing criminal penalties. For years many in the MSM, including at the Chronicle, have been cheerleaders for heightened criminal penalties as a solution to nearly every social ill, so perhaps we're witnessing what would be a welcome pivot in conventional wisdom.

"Lock 'em up" is never the end of the conversation, especially for county jails. The next question is inevitably, "then what?" Maybe once the media begins asking it regularly, elected officials will follow suit.

Related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

Just look at the Sheriffs own website on daily bookings and see the type of "quality" arrests that are made.
Didn't they outlaw "debtors prisons" back in the middle ages? Oh that's right Harris County is still IN the middle ages.

Anonymous said...

Having been around courthouses for more than 30 years, it is seldom that commissioners hold other elected officials responsible and accountable for their actions/inactions. Sheriff's and District Attorney's generally do what they want, how they want it, because commissioners don't want to get into a pissing contest with law enforcement. Not good politics. Power of the purse is the only weapon commissioners have and they seldom, if ever, use it.


Anonymous said...

Not in Harris County, Tx! The sheriff is a puppet; the constables are private police forces for the commissioners. The commissioners court controls every dime that is spent or not spent.

Anonymous said...

I totally agree, when the State of Texas acknowledges a term "technical revocation" for people wearing monitors that don't work right, getting them thrown in jail, kepping from jobs, school and families...something needs to be done. I thought the whole point of putting them on parole/probation was so they could come back into "society" and become "productive" citizens...this seems to kinda negate the whole procedure.

J Justus said...

The Feds need to take a look at the past to solve our prison system prob. we have today.We have our jails full of people that cost tax payers from the time of arrest till the time the inmate dies. Once someone has spent time in jail and have a record they will most likely never be able to get and hold a job to support their family and theirselves, so they end up back in jail or on welfare still costing the tax payer. Why dont the Feds step in and offer a chance for these inmates to go into the army and out of jail. If they serve without trouble their record would be cleared! Doing this would help alot of inmates grow up, break away from the gangs and build pride in what they have done for their country.I know back in the 1960 this was a option for many people that were facing jail time.This would clear out the jails,cut back on returns to jail and take the strain off our welfair system and give some pride to families that never would have it any other way. And what luck , we happen to be at war with everbody!!!