Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Pretrial detention for misdemeanors contributes to Bexar jail costs

KENS-TV out of San Antonio has a short but notable item on reducing jail costs, including a suggestion by County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson for diverting nonviolent offenders:
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.

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.
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.

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.


Alex S. said...

It would be interesting to see what type of misdemeanor offenders were in the Bexar jail at that time. Were they pre-trial detainees or were they inmates serving sentences? What types of crimes made up the bulk of the 13%? Probation violators? Family violence offenders? Drug offenders? I doubt Grits has that information but I bet some light would be shed if we had the numbers. Thank you for sharing this story

Anonymous said...

I bet Smith County would lead Bexar County. They hold you until you plead guilty.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

FWIW, 4:14, checking Smith County they're at 9.1%.

And Alex, you're right, I don't have that level of detail.

Anonymous said...

What are the numbers for probation violators?

Zeety said...

Well, you can count on at least 300 of them being "deadbeat dads." Grits highlighted a story out of Bexar County last year, and I contributed my own personal testimony that the system is basically bullshit.

I was in court one day when a guy who had just been released from prion on a bank robbery conviction and did three years in prison. As soon as he got out they hauled him into court for child support. He told the judge "your honor, I'm a career criminal, all I know how to do is rob people for money."

The child support judge told him "I don't care how you get it, just pay it."

Later it occured to me how easy it would be to launder drug money through the county child support collection office and funnel it to someone.

All you have to do is file a pro se claim for child support. Nobody is going to look at the birth certificate or check the validity of the SS# of the child. As long as the mother and father agree on the order, the judge will just rubber stamp it.

Then you take $50,000 a month in cash down to the child support office. They ask no questions or require you to fill out any forms explaining where the money came from the way the bank does. They are only too happy to receive the funds. Then they send a check to "mom."

I know this is a fact because I've paid them $25,000 in cash and they never asked where the money came from.