Crowded jails are costing taxpayers in Bexar County millions every year. Officials say the Bexar County Jail has an average of 4,200 inmates at any given time.
About 80 percent of those inmates are repeat offenders. As a result, the county spends about $84 million a year on incarcerating inmates.
"A significant chunk of those who go back and forth and back and forth are costing a ton of money with no resultant improvement in their own behavior," said Precinct 4 County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson.
Adkisson is trying to come up with a way to thin out the jail population, in the hopes of easing the burden on the taxpayer.Jail overcrowding is a complex problem with many sources. But looking at the most recent (12/1/10) jail population report (pdf), one obvious source of extra inmates jumps out: A greater proportion of Bexar inmates are incarcerated pretrial for misdemeanor offenses - 13.1% - than in most larger Texas counties.
He's proposing that those accused of non-violent crimes, such as drug abuse, shouldn't necessarily go to jail. Instead, Adkisson is suggesting community service and rehabilitation programs.
This chart based on the above-linked report depicts the percentage of various counties' jail population made up of misdemeanor defendants awaiting trial:
In a situation where every inmate diverted saves the county money, it's simply not worth the bang for the buck to house as many petty offenders pretrial as Bexar County has become accustomed to doing. (See this Grits post from 2007 complaining of this longstsanding Alamo City practice.) As of December 1, Bexar housed 544 pretrial misdemeanants, compared to 461 in Harris (Houston) and 168 in Dallas. Reduce proportional detention of pretrial misdemeanor defendants to the levels in those cities, and it would free up resources to focus on inmates the county has no choice but to detain.
Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff estimated that the jail could save $10,000 per day if local police and the county sheriff would use authority granted by the Legislature in 2007 to issue summons instead of arresting for certain low-level misdemeanors, but the move was blocked by Bexar District Attorney Susan Reed. Maybe that decision needs to be revisited.
Travis (Austin) and Hidalgo (Edinburg) Counties have even higher rates of detention for pretrial misdemeanor defendants, so Bexar isn't alone in grappling with this particular problem. But these data show some Texas counties have identified ways to reduce those numbers, and Bexar could, too.