In my hometown of Tyler, Smith County officials have decided to forego a fourth vote on a new jail for the time being, with County Judge Joel Baker declaring, "Now is not the best time to bring up the bond option, so we have to find other ways to stop the bleeding."
That's good news. Jail proponents got their butts whipped in Smith County elections three years running, so it's definitely time they gave it a rest.
There ARE ways for Smith and other counties with overcrowding problems to reduce the "bleeding," though, if courts and jails utilize more diversion programs, focusing use of the jail more on safety concerns and less on money making ventures.
Meanwhile, the Dallas News today has an editorial about their jail's problems calling for the creation of a new position at the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to consult with counties about jail diversion. The paper opined that an independent view would be more constructive than a consultant beholden to the commissioners court who might tell them whatever they want to hear. (I tend to agree, though I think TCJS might need to be budgeted more than one person for that role if they're going to cover the entire state.)
The opinion piece was timed to coincide with a TCJS meeting in Austin today. Wrote the Dallas News editorial board:
RELATED: Here's a list of the 5 counties currently sending the most overflow inmates to other jails and private contractors:
The immediate problem is today in Austin, where several Dallas County officials will attempt to convince the jail commission board that they're doing all they can to reach compliance.
In immediate jeopardy is a 15-year-old variance that allows the county to exceed bed limits in the jail tower with serious, persistent fire-safety problems. If the board isn't convinced, it could order the county to move about 900 inmates out of the North Tower. County Judge Jim Foster estimates the cost at $4 million a month.
"They're tired of being told what we're doing," he says. "They want results."
Our suggestion is that they get behind Munoz's program specialist plan, which so far has survived the budget knives. If county commissioners want to add another consultant on top of that, fine. As many fresh eyes as possible for an increasingly tired problem.
- Harris: 1,021 inmates
- Fort Bend: 314
- Lubbock: 234
- Smith: 148
- Bexar: 76
- Harris: 3.11 per 1,000
- Fort Bend: 2.20
- Lubbock: 3.74
- Smith: 4.22
- Bexar: 2.87
- Statewide: 2.63