Three different jail proposals on two different ballots were overwhelmingly voted down in 2006 and 2007, but the commissioners court hopes a scaled down jail costing about $60 million will pass muster when more ambitious expansions failed before. Reports the Tyler Morning Telegraph ("Officials unveil scaled down jail facility for November ballot," July 30):
Whether it's smart long-term planning, a new jail will inevitably be a lot more expensive and require greater tax increases than this article portrays. The biggest costs from jail building over time aren't from the debt payments for brick and mortar but from additional staffing requirements for jail expansion.A new jail bond proposal on the November ballot will ask Smith County voters to approve a $59.6 million plan for 694 new beds in a jail tower adjacent to the existing downtown facility. Administrative offices would be built next to the new tower.In a Tuesday meeting with the Tyler Morning Telegraph’seditorial board, Smith County officials presented the new plan, which calls for keeping both existing jail facilities —downtown and Low Risk. The plan is less than half the cost of the $125 million bond package voters rejected in 2007.
The new plan was put together by a committee that included Bobby Curtis, a leader of the group that opposed the 2007 bond proposition.“We’ve worked on this for seven months, and I think it’s a great plan,” Curtis said. “I think the taxpayers will pass this. It’s a bare-bones plan. I think these tax dollars are well-spent.”State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, was also part of the committee that developed the plan.“This is a common-sense approach that solves our jail problem,” Eltife said. “It’s looking to the future; we’re building only what we need now, but we have the ability to build another tower when needed. I think it’s very smart long-term planning.”
To meet minimum state staffing standards of one guard per 48 inmates, 15 guards would be required on each shift for three shifts per day to supervise 694 jail inmates. So for a full week 63 officers would be needed to staff such a jail when it's full, and more would need to be hired in order to supervise those employees, cover absenteeism, etc.. Assume an extra 25% are needed for such purposes and Smith County could easily need as many as 80 new deputies in order to staff such a facility.
Conservatively estimating $30,000 salaries for 80 deputies and ignoring, recruitment, training, equipment, insurance, and other additional costs for the moment, just staffing a 694 inmate jail could cost $2.4 million per year, much more if any significant amount of that work is done using overtime.
While some prominent jail bond opponents from the last campaign have signed off on the new plan, I suspect more than a few voters will continue to oppose costly jail building when other options to reduce the jail population aren't being pursued. Tyler District Judge Cynthia Kent recently told the commissioners court that “We cannot jail-build our way out of this problem.” For my part, until I see more details of the proposal, for now I agree with Judge Kent's assessment when she wrote about the new plan:
Insanity has been defined as "continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results." Smith County has ignored the needs of the justice system, judges, courts, and citizens and has since 1984 generally addressed jail overcrowding by building more jail bed space. I predict this new jail construction plan will cost millions of dollars, if approved by the voters, and once constructed the new jail will be overcrowded the first day it is opened. Sounds crazy to me.In a sense, the jail overcrowding crisis has been a mitzvah for Smith County because it gave local pols incentives to pursue alternatives to incarceration that otherwise would not have been politically possible. But officials in my hometown have far from exhausted their options to reduce that burden beyond jail building, and they should do so before asking voters to sign off on more tax hikes for expanding the jail with no apparent end in sight.
RELATED: See a local Smith County blogger's reaction at taxrevolt.info.
See prior Grits posts tracking Tyler jail bond debates:
- Smith County appears headed for jail bond rejection hat trick
- Cynthia Kent: Tyler needs more court space not a bigger jail
- Memo to Tyler officials: Listen to your voters and use new tools to reduce jail overcrowding
- Counties that rejected new jails must now get serious about diversion'
- Voters who rejected county jails looking for better justice policies
- Texas prison and jail vote results
- Public participation required for vigorous jail debates
- The Jail that Ate Tyler' and other stories
- Debate intensifies over Tyler's $125 million 'Taj Mahal' jail
- Architect: Voters should accept nine-figure pricetag for new jail
- Tyler's jail alternative saves $1 million in first nine month
- Smith County voters have more options than building Taj Mahal jail
- Tyler's day reporting center reduces overcrowding, saves money
- 'Unsellable' Tyler jail still too small
- Tyler's Alternative Incarceration Center opens; DA thinks no one qualifies
- Tyler judge: End jail overcrowding with community supervision of nonviolent offenders
- More on Tyler's alternatives to jail overcrowding
- Incarceration Alternatives: From Smith County, a plan emerges
- Update: Tyler Alternative Incarceration Plan, Day Reporting Center funded
- Tyler voters: Jail bonds a 'No-No"
- Jail bond vote may become annual affair in Tyler