Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Privatizating Harris County Jail would save money by cutting guard pay, benefits

Harris County Commissioner Steve Radack is suggesting privatization of the Harris County Jail, a lockup that's collectively larger than the prison systems of 20 US states. According to Mike Morris in the Houston Chronicle ("Privatizing county jail on commissioners' agenda," April 18), Radack said:
"We need to look at trying to save taxpayers' money and try to see if there's a cheaper way of operating the Harris County jails," ... "I think the best way to do that is to put the request for proposals out on the street to see who's interested and what their proposals are."

The resulting ideas could result in a limited contract — for food or medical services, for instance — or total privatization, Radack said.

State law allows commissioners courts to privatize jail operations. In most Texas counties, the court needs written approval of the sheriff to do so. However, in counties with a population of 2.8 million or more, including Harris, the sheriff does not need to approve if the contract meets or exceeds standards set by the state Commission on Jail Standards. ...

County Judge Ed Emmett said it never hurts to seek efficiencies, but said he has reservations about the proposal. 

"I wouldn't be in favor of moving forward at all until somebody comes forward and says, 'This is why privatization would be good,' and gives me some concrete examples," Emmett said. "Clearly, it would be a massive change that would be undertaken neither lightly nor quickly. … It's one thing to say we're going to privatize a jail in a very small rural setting, but to talk about a jail like ours, where not only is it a jail but it's currently the largest mental health facility in the state of Texas — this is a large undertaking."
Since Judge Emmett is interested in concrete examples of how privatization would save money, it might behoove commissioners to listen to the recent discussion of privatizing state jails at the Legislature. State Rep. Erwin Cain told the House Corrections Committee that privatization would save money by reducing "state exposure to pension and healthcare costs." TDCJ chief Brad Livingston told the committee that any savings comes because private vendors pay their staff less money and have a less favorable benefit package than state employees.

So essentially it'd be the deputies whose ox gets gored under a privatization scheme in Harris County, assuming there's any savings to be had at all. Ironically, though the article portrays this suggestion as an attack on Sheriff Adrian Garcia, the suggestion probably plays into his hands politically by setting the Sheriff up as a champion against privatization in they eyes of the deputies union, who otherwise aren't his biggest fans.

RELATED (4/22): Harris County Jail scaling back visitation hours.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Carl Griffith and Associates are doing a study on the operations of the Harris County Jail, I think. anyone heard about this?

Shadowguv said...

Grits identifies that the actual target of the privatization pitch is Sheriff Garcia. One could never imagine a scenario in which Commissioner Radack would have proposed such a scheme while Tommy Thomas was in office. That's why this pitch (and the article) has such a slant. It's just politics.

Grits has written extensively about how to reduce county jail costs (through reductions of the inmate population). Our leaders simply lack the political courage to do what needs to be done.

They know what to do! Skip the posturing, forget the next election (they'll be re-elected anyway) and show some real leadership.

Anonymous said...

Privatizing a county jail or not, the Sheriff is still responsible under standards to see the jail is compliant with TCJS rules.

Yes, you can cut pay and salary and turn it into a three ring circus like you see with CEC and GEO.

And Sheriff, you and the county will still have potential liability from the acts and omissions of those clowns.

Anonymous said...

Let's see, a guard at a private prison or jail getting less pay and benefits . . . I wonder how easy it will be to get contraband in there? DUH! If the inmates riot, I wonder how motivated a guard will be to put his or her life on the line to stop it.

This is all just a reflection of the disdain that the big money legislators and decision makers have for the people at the lower end of the economic spectrum in general and line staff in criminal justice in particular.

Anonymous said...

These people are overpaid and need to be drawn down.

Earnest said...

Several thoughts....

If the commissioners court thinks the civil service laws are too onerous, then they should go to the state legislature and get them amended!

As Grits noted previously: We should not be incetivizing incarceration. I believe this applies/should apply not only to the "private" prisons but also to using contractors in the state/county system.

I am always troubled when an elected official proposes using a private contractor to perform what has always been a government function... traffic enforcement, prison guards, private superhighways...

And lastly, if an elected official has a plan for privatizaion of a public function, I want to know what kind of backroom relationship they have with the contractor.

Anonymous said...

The only thing I know about Griffith is that Dallas failed their jail inspection for 8 years until they hired Griffith. Then they passed.

Anonymous said...

Privatizing the jail would give the county more money. So would eliminating all Constables, their chief deputy, other supervisory staff, deputies, support personnel and the faculties they occupy. Has anyone ever done a study on this. As a taxpayer why do I have to pay for 9 different county funded law enforcement agencies? (1-sheriff and 8 constables). You could absorb the rank and file employees into the sheriffs department have the civil process, courts, jail, and patrol divisions.

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:27,

You pay for them because Radack (an ex-constable, I understand) and Eversole wanted a private police force. Originally allowed to expand because the Commissioner's Court years ago got in a budget fight with a previous sheriff. Instead of allowing funds for LE to go to the sheriff, they reportedly sent them to the constables allowing Pct 4, for example, to have hundreds of deputies on the streets with no coordination with the sheriff's office.

Once Fallen said...

This is slightly off topic but could someone be a sweetheart and take a picture of one of those GEO Group private prison job billboards and send it to me? I saw one while riding Greyhound through Texas but my picture is fuzzy and unreadable. Thanks! iamthefallen1@yahoo.com