Thursday, December 30, 2010

Grayson County abandoned speculative jail building scheme

After a majority of the commissioners court spent 2008 and 2009 pushing to build an unneeded, 1,500 bed jail, Grayson County has wisely scaled back their jail building ambitions, approving a contract this week to add 96 beds to their current facility. Even that, IMO, could probably have been delayed. The Grayson jail's current capacity is 432, but as of December 1 (pdf) there were only 315 inmates there, including 30 being held on contract. But at least a 96-bed expansion is clearly designed to fill the county's needs rather than launching some grandiose, speculative venture to compete in the slumping private prison market..

The best part: The county can pay for the smaller jail with cash on hand instead of issuing long-term debt that would require raising taxes. There's a takeaway lesson from this episode that one would think should resonate with fiscal conservatives: Smaller government costs less; jails are government; therefore smaller jails cost less.

Indeed, one need only look at the jail fiascos in McLennan and Johnson Counties - where private companies convinced commissioners to build large facilities they didn't need that now sit empty with no contracts to pay the bond debt - to see the mess Grayson County would be in now if they'd actually built a speculative 1,500 bed jail. Grayson taxpayers should thank the police union CLEAT for suing to stop the jail vote last year; given this outcome, it saved them a lot of money and headaches.

See related Grits posts:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Speculative construction of prison or jail capacity based on the "if we build it, they will fill it" and "everyone will profit" perspective is a prescription for financial disaster. Furthermore, creates pressures to confine more people -- when tax payers somewhere are always footing the bill.

The pressure on counties to expand capacity far beyond their legitimate needs is really about private corrections business interests. It is clearly not about public safety, public interest or public goods.

Grayson County was lucky to have pulled back from this "deal" (AKA - "con game").