Tuesday, June 30, 2009

TDCJ prisoner decline could bust privatization scheme for Grayson County Jail

In Grayson County last year, officials were enamored of the idea that they could expand their local jail without taxpayers "footing the bill" if they built it out much larger than necessary, allowed a private company to operate it, and leased out empty space to the Department of Criminal Justice. But with the jail building decision drawing near, TDCJ's population is down and they're not leasing as many beds from counties as they have in the past. Reported KTEN-TV ("Less inmates in Texas, more trouble for Grayson County jail," June 29):
Over the past few months commissioners have discussed privatizing the jail to reduce costs.

They hope building a larger facility will allow them to house more inmates from across the state and that the fee per inmate will be less than what their paying now. On the other hand, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice says the number of inmates in has fallen, which would lead some to believe a new, larger jail in Grayson County may be sitting empty, yet county Judge Drue Bynum says he not worried.

"Their feasibly study came back and said in the next 20 years we would need a facility that would hold between 720 and 750 people, so we were making our decision based on the jail commission feasibility study that we just engaged."

The new jail is slated to be built near the corner of Frisco Road and Graystone on the Northeast side of Sherman.

The company now being considered is Southwest Corrections. They hope to run a new 750 bed jail here.
I'd identified this issue when Grayson first proposed the idea of overbuilding and privatizing its jail, writing that "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." Now on the eve of the county's vote on the project next month, that possibility appears less remote than when the economy was booming.

Judge Bynum now says it's no big deal if they can't lease the extra space, but as a practical matter, this new development sure seems to put a dent in the county's financing scheme. After all, he pitched the privatization idea saying it would mean taxpayers won't "foot the bill for the jail." They were operating under the assumption that profiteering off extra incarceration would pay for the county's baseline jail needs, but now, in the midst of a recession and with state inmate numbers falling, that strategy appears less viable.


Anonymous said...

Regarding the TDCJ prisoner decline, let's just hope that TDCJ learned a lesson when Kenneth McDuff and countless others were being released at an alarming rate in the 90's because of prison overcrowding.

If I remember correctly, inmates then were doing about one month for every year they were sentenced.

History has a way of repeating itself; say it won't be so this time.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

It doesn't have to be thus, 8:43. The state has a choice: It can try to incarcerate every last drug offender, graffi artist, etc., it can lay its hands on, or focus incarceration on the McDuffs of the world where its most needed.

What they cannot do is pay to triple prison capacity again, which is what they did to "fix" the problem in the early '90s. The state can't afford to safely operate the 112 units it runs now.

Anonymous said...

Grayson County needs to be very careful with privatization of their jail operations. There is no "private payer" for jail or prison capacity. All of it is paid for by some public tax payer some where. Furthermore, if they misjudge the capacity needed to allow a competitive per diem rate few private corrections companies will be interested and leave Grayson County residents to carry the full construction costs while the facility is underutilized.

Privatization of local jails can be a one way decision -- that is once made it is difficult to resume public management because it so expensive for the Sheriff's Department to resume control.

From the perspective of private companies who operate prisons or jails there is no such as thing as "too much confinement in a civil society." After all, they operate exactly like hotels -- with profitability associated with high occupancy rates.

However, public officials will probabaly consider other factors and decide the ever increasing confinement rates are counterproductive -- sapping financial supports from other other essential public services and contributing to higher crime rates. For example, one of the strongest predictors of future criminal behavior in a child is having a parent in prison or jail.

Privatization is a deceitful policy that allows policy makers to appear to be tough on crime and fiscally conservative at the same time. Neither of these claims is true but they are often used to get re-elected.

Anonymous said...

Back in February of this year you wroye about the new Garza County Jail that opened and the sheriff said "Our main thing is to get out and be a sales type department to get people to bring us inmate for us to house," [Garza County Sheriff Cliff] Laws said.

The jails May population report listed inmates @ 23 local/14 contract with a total of 38.54% of the beds filled.

Looks like the sales department could use an ad campaign program. :}

By the way, do you know if the sheriff of Grayson County will be on the payroll of the corrections company? I believe that is happening in some of the other counties who have turned their jails over to private companies.

Anonymous said...

Woot. Build the jail,. and then I hope they choke on it!!!

Anonymous said...

Great, look for a trickle down effect on county jails and county taxpayers to house parole violation charged only inmates.

I'm going to wait and see but looks like this could be a repeat performance of the 90's when county jails were inundated with parole violators, paper ready inmates and the mentally ill.

Anonymous said...

Sniffle, sniffle :(

Anonymous said...

We defintely, in America, don't want anyone profiting. Capitalist place that we are!

Anonymous said...

Nothing wrong with making a profit. I just don't think that we need to add a financial incentive for government officials to place more folks in the pokey. To much temptation to pad the cells with people that don't need to be there in the first place and gives them a reason to keep them there too long.

Anonymous said...

If you build it, they will "come"...

Anonymous said...

These are the most outsourcing elected people I have ever seen running our county gov. HOW MANY TIMES HAVE THEY HIRED OUT OF TOWN CONSULTANTS TO DO THE JOB THEY ARE SUPPOSED TO BE SMART ENOUGH TO FIGURE OUT THEMSELVES. Go ahead privatize the jail but only if Louisiana is willing to BUILD the jaiL in Louisana,and LET US SEND THE PRISIONERS THERE immediately upon arrest, and have the courts there too. Maybe the people who are so intent on getting in jail would not be so eager to want to take a trip to Louisiana. This is just like when big Companies move overseas then send their produts back over here and expect us to buy them, they never think about the citizens they have put out of work. What if we outsourced our judges and commissioners? Sounds like a good plan to me. What can a private company do that our people who run the jail can't do. AFTER ALL THESE PEOPLE NEED JOBS TOO.
Build the jail here Run it yourselves with the people we have spent good money on to educate them and do the jobs you were elected and hired to do. Maybe we MIGHT re-elect you next time.