Pew says Harris County's jail expenditures increased by a greater percentage than all but two metropolitan jails in the country: Philadelphia, PA, which has its own longstanding issues, and Maricopa County (Phoenix), where Sheriff Joe Arpaio's shenanigans drove up costs 106% from 1999 - 2009, compared to 34% in Houston. New York City's jail costs declined by 5% over the same period.
Harris County also ranked third highest in jail population growth over the same period, with inmate numbers growing 46% compared to 49% in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. By comparison, New York City reduced its average jail population by 24%, and Atlanta's declined by 20%. So some jurisdictions have found a way to reverse the one-way ratchet that continues to increase incarceration levels even when crime is declining.
Hair Balls notes that "Alan Bernstein, a spokesman for Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia, says the stats in the study are correct but draws attention to the period covered, which is almost entirely before Garcia's term began. Since then, he notes, jail population and jail spending has decreased." The truth is, though, how many people get sent to the jail and when they get out are largely factors beyond the Sheriff's control.
Here's a link (pdf) to Pew's study, "Local Jails: Working to Reduce Populations and Cost," findings from which may not surprise long-time Grits readers:
What lies behind the rising and falling number of inmates in jails? The number of arrests is one factor. But in many places, the size of the jail population is determined largely by a series of policies and procedures that answer the following questions:I've been singing this song for years in posts titled things like "Needless pretrial detention main cause of Harris jail overcrowding," and consultants have been pointing out the same problems in Houston for the last half decade. Indeed, in many Texas counties the rates of pretrial detention are even higher.
• Who should be detained prior to trial, and who should be allowed to remain in the community while his or her case proceeds?
• How long does it take to try a case?
• Are other sanctions besides jail time used to punish those who break the rules governing their probation or parole?
• Which convicted inmates serve out their sentences in the local jail and which are sent to state prisons?
Concludes the report: “The stakes for these reforms are high. 'You could drop [the jail population] by 10, and if it’s the wrong 10, the city is going to be more dangerous,' says Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey. 'You could also probably drop the population by 1,000 without impacting public safety—but what matters is who those 1,000 people are and what we’re doing with them.'”
RELATED: Earlier this week, the House County Affairs Committee met to discuss their Interim Charge (#3) to "Study county oversight related to pretrial release on bond in criminal cases." You can watch the hearing online here - the portion about pretrial detention begins about 3:34:14 - but the audio keeps going in and out on my computer. There should be something on pretrial detention in the committee's interim report, however.
See related Grits posts:
- Reduce pretrial detention to stave off overcrowding
- Elected Officials Guide to Jail Population Management
- Judges have tools to reduce Harris jail overcrowding if they'll use them
- Shipping inmates to other counties won't lower Harris jail population, just scatter it
- Counties that rejected new jails must now get serious about diversion
- Pretrial detention, unnecessary incarceration driving Texas jail overcrowding
- Bail blunders boost bulging Harris jail population
- Extra bail conditions: When tough on crime means tough on taxpayers
- Should county government subsidize bail bond companies?
- Lack of counsel, information are bail barriers
- Harris County detains low-risk offenders for no reason
- Homegrown Harris Jail Jam: Jailed probationers swell inmate numbers
- Proposed mental health wing at Harris jail raises question of treatment priorities