Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Lubbock taxpayers eating costs for overbuilt jail

In Lubbock County, a new jail that the commissioners court claimed would generate revenue and reduce burdens on taxpayers is gobbling up the county budget and squeezing out other priorities, the Lubbock Avalanche Journal reported ("County budget jailed," July 22):

With commissioners still days away from knowing how much tax revenue they may expect, employee raises, new hires to handle growth and long-planned projects seemed set to wait until next year.

"We're held hostage, more or less, by the jail," County Judge Tom Head said.

The budget process began this year with a letter from Head to elected officials and other department bosses asking for no increases in their budget requests for the next year.

Jail costs, as well as the county's newly created medical examiner's office, became priorities over the last year, he said.

The Texas Tech Health Sciences Center informed Lubbock County last August that they would stop providing medical examiner services by September of this year. The county had already taken over much of that work - a new, $1.7 million department appeared for the next fiscal year.

That paled next to the more than $20 million dedicated to the jail, amounting to nearly a third of the county's general fund.

Commissioners had expected the facility to generate its own revenue from federal and out-of-county inmates at this point. The county instead shipped prisoners to other jails at a cost of $250,000 a month and collected $4,500 a day from the contractor for each day work continued on the building beyond its planned opening date.

"We thought that when we were at this point, this year, we would have been in there and not upside down as we are with out-of-county inmates," Commissioner Patti Jones said.

This is another example of a county building excess jail capacity on a speculative basis hoping to profiteer off incarceration and produce revenue. Instead, perhaps predictably, at the first sign of economic downturn the strategy falls flat. Exacerbating the problem, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has stopped leasing beds from county jails because of its own successful efforts to keep the state prison population under control.

Lubbock isn't the only county whose jail eats up an overwhelming portion of the county budget, but commissioners' desire to make money off incarceration instead of just building to meet local needs has now put local taxpayers in a position of paying for an expensive albatross with little benefit to public safety.

4 comments:

Robert Boyd said...

Perhaps they could rent out a wing of the jail to cash-strapped Tech students to defray losses!

Anonymous said...

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!! can I say it again AHAHAHAHAHAH!!! I hope that jail/prison saps their budget for decades to come. The pompous assholes that built this jail IN HOPES that they would fill it up with their fellow Texans and other Citizens of the United States. FU Lubbock, choke on your greed and arrogance!

Boyness said...

Why dont they just pass some local ordinances and attach jail time to them? The Texas way!!

Andres Morin III said...

Profiting from incarceration is what leads to oversentencing in the first place! I too hope "they choke on their greed and arrogance." Lobbock, you built a monster....NOW YOU HAVE TO FEED IT!! I hope you've learned your lesson.......you planted the seed..now reap your harvest!! In the end, Lobbock, you got what you deserved....a money sucking, black hole. Isn't Karma a motherfucker??...andy