Really, though, an expanded jail would cost much more than that because the Sheriff can't adequately staff all the facilities he has now (most guards pull double shifts more than once per week, the Houston Chronicle reported last year), and the Sheriff already spends tens of millions of dollars annually on overtime. There aren't enough deputies in Harris County to staff a new jail.
I've little doubt there will be a significant tax hike associated with any new jail bond proposal - the jail voters rejected in 2007 would have increased the portion of Harris County's budget dedicated to criminal justice from 16% to 25%. And if staffing costs were included, that number would probably be higher.
Despite overcrowding pressures, I still oppose new jail building in Harris County because local officials haven't done enough to pursue diversion initiatives and have rejected less expensive tools available to solve the problem. For that matter, Sheriff Garcia is even more obstinate than his GOP predecessor (Garcia is a Democrat) in insisting that only expanding capacity - not diverting offenders from the jail - is acceptable to him as a solution. As long as that's the case, jail expansion isn't a serious proposal: It's folly to believe Harris County can build its way out of the problem and if that's all that's on the table it's not worth it.
What else could Harris County do? The Sheriff can't fix the problem on his own, but with the help of other local officials are a number of options which have been spelled out plenty of times on this blog. Here are a few topline suggestions:
The Sheriff and Houston PD could use authority granted by the Legislature in 2007 to give citations instead of arresting for certain low-level, non-violent Class B misdemeanors. Garcia has refused to even consider this option for his own deputies.
Garcia could reconsider his enthusiasm for filling up the jail with immigration detainees who committed petty misdemeanor offenses.
Judges could stop thwarting the will of the Legislature by requiring county jail time for first offenders on less-than-a-gram drug charges. About 1,200 such inmates are currently incarcerated in Harris County up to six months as a "condition" of probation, though in most other counties such offenders wouldn't be jailed. They could also reduce probation rolls through early release of successful probationers, which over time reduces the pool of probationers available to be revoked.
Judges could reduce bail amounts or utilize more personal bonds for offenders with low flight risks.
The commissioners court could establish a public defenders office to reduce pretrial detention times.
The District Attorney could rescind her predecessor's policy of sending drug paraphernalia to crime labs in order to secure felony possession instead of misdemeanor paraphernalia charges. Other counties may pursue a paraphernalia charge when an offender is found with a crack pipe - in Harris those are treated as state jail felonies and contribute significantly to clogging the jail and court dockets.
The probation department could more aggressively use progressive sanctions to reduce probation revocations. (They've been moving in this direction, but more could be done.)
These opportunities to reduce jail overcrowding have all been ignored for years in Harris County. That's why voters should reject an expensive new jail until local officials make a good-faith attempt to reduce overcrowding by other means. When new construction is the only solution offered for jail overcrowding, that's really no solution at all.