So much misinformation!Since I've been accused of spreading "misinformation," let's run through these arguments, shall we?
The new Central Processing Center would not add 2,500 beds. It would add about half that, and reserve most of those for special facilities for females and mentally ill inmates. Its prime function would be booking and releasing for the county and for the city, which would pay the county to take over those functions. Inmates would be sent to existing beds faster, and would be released faster when their jail stay is over. A new front door is not a new bedroom, si?
The current processing center is overrun, cramped, outmoded – presenting an unsafe situation that no one wants. The new facility would never “build our way out” of a jail population problem. The sheriff, the county budget director and others involved acknowledge that by 2014, when this new facility would open, there will have to be new policies in place across the entire justice system to avert a continuing inmate population then. Fortunately, all of those things are already under discussion.
The sheriff is moving forward on multiple fronts. George Parnham, chairman of the sheriff’s mental health advisory committee, last month briefed Commissioners Court about plans for a Reintegration Center for the mentally ill, as an example. But we have to plan now to avoid a continuation of the problems we already have with an outmoded, too-small inmate processing center.
The sheriff has not rejected “cite-and-release” but wants to make sure it would make things better, not backfire, before seriously considering it.
The jail has no “immigrant detainees” other than those who would be there as non-immigrants dealing with criminal charges under state law. The county jail does not house inmates solely because they are facing immigration charges.
The public defender’s office, new bonding policies and other ideas, all of which are beyond the sheriff’s authority, are also being considered already.
What has changed since the “jail” (wrong title, to be fair) bond was rejected in 2007 besides there now being a new sheriff? For one, there is now a Criminal Justice Coordinating Council of 11 elected officials who are hashing out the ideas presented on this blog. Many of these officials are restless and eager to move forward.
Director of Public Affairs
Harris County Sheriff’s Office
First, I should acknowledge that I misstated the number of proposed beds to be built, which is 2,193, not 2,500; the latter was the number of bed proposed in the 2007 bond election and I mistakenly transposed the figures. Reports the Chronicle, "Garcia's plan would establish a new booking center that could hold 2,193 prisoners. It would have about 1,200 beds and capacity to hold another 1,000 people for the processing involved in being booked into or released from jail." My apologies for the error. However, 2,193 is not "half" of 2,500.
The Sheriff is engaging in a bit of sleight of hand to claim that a new booking center shouldn't be counted as increased "capacity." In reality, existing cell space is being used for those purposes right now. So unless they shut down those beds - as Travis County did when they recently added a new wing - beds previously used for central booking will now be available for other uses. Who believes they won't just fill them up?
I also find it incredible (for someone accusing others of spreading "misinformation") for Bernstein to claim that "The sheriff has not rejected 'cite-and-release.'” That's simply false. Garcia has been asked to implement it and declined. What's more, Bernstein admits the Sheriff is not "seriously considering" the idea. While many overcrowding solutions require action by other actors in the system - the DA, judges, the commissioners court - the cite-and-release policy for his deputies is totally under Garcia's control. If the Sheriff won't do all he can to reduce overcrowding pressures using the tools available to him, IMO it's unjustified to ask voters for a quarter-billion dollar band aid.
Equally odd was the claim that "The jail has no 'immigrant detainees' other than those who would be there as non-immigrants dealing with criminal charges under state law." That's a red herring. The Harris jail does not house federal immigration prisoners, it's true, but it's also the case that Garcia has chosen to continue a program begun during the 2008 campaign season by his predecessor to identify and flag offenders for federal immigration holds. As I wrote last year about this program, "The only point of the training is to detain more people, but the jail is full. Other than making some abstract political statement, the practical function of [such] new programs ... is to fill up the jail with defendants who otherwise pose little threat to public safety."
I'm certainly glad to receive reassurance that "The public defender’s office, new bonding policies and other ideas, all of which are beyond the sheriff’s authority, are also being considered already." However, some of these things have been "considered" for years. My point was that implementation of those ideas should be prioritized over building more jail space. First things first.
The most important parts of Bernstein's response, at the end of the day, were the things he did not say. He did not dispute that the Sheriff couldn't staff new jail space with existing deputies. The jail currently requires overtime and double shifts to cover the beds they run now. And he didn't dispute that the jail will be a budget-buster, requiring a significant property tax increase during the midst of a recession. Those are the reasons voters rejected a similar jail bond proposal in 2007, and unless the economy turns around unexpectedly, it's hard to imagine those sentiments changing next year.