Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Overincarceration at local jail responsible for Wichita County tax hike

Higher county property taxes in Wichita Falls are entirely attributable to rising jail costs, the Times Record News reports today; their county commissioners court this week approved an 8% tax hike:
County Judge Woody Gossom said the extra revenue will all go to the county jail, with about half the increase dedicated to additional jail staffing and the rest toward the expense of housing inmates out of county due to overcrowding.

The 2011 budget contains no pay raises for county employees, except for hikes for two district court reporters, which commissioners are required by law to pass.

Gossom said the budget is designed to meet the requirements of the jail and the demands of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

He said a “great deal” of effort has gone in to dealing with issues that plague both the jail in the courthouse and at the Sprague Annex, including leaking roofs. Gossom also said a committee of county officials and others will be formed to “look into things we can do to reduce the number of people in jail.” (emphasis added)

“We have to look at ways to reduce expenses,” he said.

Gossom said the county is paying nearly $750,000 a year to transfer inmates to jails in nearby counties because of overcrowding here.

The tax rate increase approved Monday is just below the level that could by law allow taxpayers to petition for a rollback..
Politicians in Wichita County aren't looking to "reduce the number of people in jail" because they're suddenly soft on crime. They face stark budget choices just like the Legislature does next year, and unlike the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, they recognize it isn't possible to put off forever policy changes that reduce incarceration rates instead of endlessly indulging the system's carceral appetites.


Robert Langham said...

Smith County Commissioners are RAISING THE TAX RATE but refuse to cut the incarceration rate. In fact, they want a bigger jail.

Anonymous said...

I'm like you, I'm only concerned with the tax rate when I'm advocating that prisoners be released.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

No, 9:20, I'm equally concerned about government waste when indigent defense costs balloon to defend petty cases, when court dockets are overwhelmed and become money sinkholes, when DA's wait days to evaluate intake instead of using direct filing, and generally whenever there's waste and pointless extra spending in the system. (The topic of this blog is criminal justice, of course; if we were discussing healthcare we'd be talking about different areas of waste - perhaps you just oppose seeking cost savings in this one area of government?)

Texas county jail populations in the last decade grew MUCH faster than the population or the crime rate. There's fat there to cut if there is the political will.

Anonymous said...

As a Wichita County defense attorney I see this kind of waste every day. There has been no increase in crime in Wichita County that would result in an increased jail population. The situation is an effort by the Sherrif's office to pack the existing jails to force the citizens into buying a new one and the DAs assisting this effort to retain their relationship with the SO as well as their own inability to timely move cases. It is bureaucratic money grabbing and has led to a form over substance style of justice.

Doug Duncan said...

I work for UTMB as a mental health clinician in a Texas prison. One thing that concerns me (among many) is the disparity in sentencing from one county to another. What is fair about someone getting two years in McLennan for something that they would only get six months for in Dallas?

Anonymous said...

Thank you Wichita County defense attorney. You are absolutely correct. To jail someone for something that a citaion would handle, putting them in jail is not the answer.

John55 said...

Sure lets go DIRECTLY to the tax payers and nail them.

Don't bother to try to negotiate concessions from anyone in the public sector, not when you have a loophole you can use to screw the taxpayers.

And if your trying for even more money you can pack the jail with people that should have been released on their own recognizance & a court date.
Of course that sometimes leads to abuses & lawsuits like the Stark County, Ohio jail has had.


So then the taxpayers can pay through the nose for them too.