Sunday, May 01, 2011

Smith County 'Tea Party' group pushes jail bonds despite higher costs for same services

In my hometown, competing "Tea Party" groups have come down on either side of a Smith County jail building proposal that would raise county property taxes. Grits had mentioned the Tea-Party folks opposing the jail in this post, and now a competing Tea-Party affiliated group, called Grassroots America - We the People, has come out backing the plan. Early voting begins Monday on the county's fifth jail proposal in as many years. All the others failed, maxxing out at around 45% of the vote.

Smith County voters have decisively rejected a new jail and local officials - particularly the police, DA and judges - have failed to implement jail diversion policies that could solve the problem without more taxes. So I'm a little surprised to see the anti-Big Government crowd, or at least some of them, caving in on this. Nothing irks small-government conservatives more than politicians whose plans are rejected over and over by voters who then keep bringing them back for yet another plebiscite until they finally get what they want. The strategy is to wear the voters down, and it frequently works. Special interests who want the jail - from construction firms to the Sheriff - perhaps rightfully think they can outlast the opposition, who are mostly volunteers opposing the jail on principle and aren't paid to keep up the fight for years on end.

Notably, even proponents figures show the new jail will cost substantially more in the near term - immediately, in fact - compared to simply leasing beds in other counties until Smith could implement diversion strategies. According to GAWTP:
At the last Smith County Commissioners' Court Meeting (April 25) Sherriff Smith reported the out-of-county jail population was 70. If you take the current contract per diem rate of $41.00 per inmate, times the 70 out-of-county prisoners, Smith County paid $2,870 for that one day. This does not include the cost of transporting those prisoners (vehicle depreciation, personnel cost, gas, and upkeep of the vehicle), and the medical care the prisoners may need or receive (an out-of-county cost over which Smith County has no control).
So if housing prisoners out of county costs $2,870 per day, how much will debt on the new jail cost? The total amount to be borrowed is $35 million, so for the sake of argument let's say the county will pay a simple interest rate of 4.5%. Plug it into the ol' interest calculator, and over the life of the loan (15 years), that comes to $58,625,000, or $10,708 per day, rounded to the nearest dollar. It's hard to see how that makes economic sense.

Of course, county officials say they may be able to recoup some of the cost by leasing out the extra beds, but lots of other counties thought the same thing and it hasn't panned out. Meanwhile, Smith County's incarceration rate remains high and the county keeps proposing more jail construction instead of focusing on diversion.

A recurring theme on this blog is that criminal justice issues don't typically break along traditional partisan or ideological lines, and the stances of these two Tea Party groups demonstrate that well.  It's a bizarre thing to see people promoting "less governrment" pushing an option that costs nearly a quarter-million dollars per month more than the status quo, but those are the strange terms of debate which have evolved over jail building in Smith County.

8 comments:

Audrey said...

Grits, your cost analysis is excellent. The other thing I see happening here, as you pointed out in your statement " Meanwhile, Smith County's incarceration rate remains high and the county keeps proposing more jail construction". If they are trying to justify the building of another jail, then their incentive is to arrest as many as they can. Another analysis would likely be interesting....the types of arrests and cries of innocence...although it takes years for the falsely accused and wrongly convicted to get heard. There is no doubt, it is a numbers game.

Woodsy said...

The small government conservatives, Tea Partiers, or whatever they call themselves this day or that, oftentimes don't apply their own rules of engagement when it comes to law enforcement/corrections or military spending(the latter of which, at some $800 billion a year, is the largest single federal expenditure).

You'd think they'd get the picture when voters rejected the plan for the jail four other times. If they don't go on to seminary and preach God's Word, hey, they can always be correctional officers or join the military (sorry Scott, I'm kinda stereotyping the Tyler folks, all in good humor though).

Anonymous said...

There's nothing bizarre about it, Grits. Locking up criminals to protect society is a much more legitimate function of government than most of the feel good social welfare programs frequently advocated on this blog and by most liberals. Most conservatives and moderates have no problem spending money on public safety. It's all these other social welfare boondoggles that are killing our country.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

1:49: What would Ronald Reagan do in a budget crisis? The answer when he was California governor was to reduce incarceration rates and release low-risk offenders to avoid raising taxes. That's an actual "small government" response; what you're advocating is more a Big Government neocon position

Anonymous said...

"Locking up criminals to protect society is a much more legitimate function of government than most of the feel good social welfare programs frequently advocated on this blog and by most liberals"

Just another conservative wannabe.

Tammy said...

Grits, you are right on with this one. As Chair of the Tyler Tea Party, there was no question what our position would be. While we certainly recognize that one of the legitimate functions of government involves incarceration, we cannot see a spending spree at the county level during such an economic downturn. And like you, we question the numbers. We also question if it is the legitimate job of a county commissioner to spend a year "selling" the idea to groups all over Texas! And as you noticed, the interest wasn't addressed and will be pretty high. They push the idea of a bond and say it won't cost us anything. Seriously?

I would also like to clarify that we do not compete with Grassroots America-We The People (GAWTP). They are most certainly not a Tea Party group as evidenced by their support of big spending right now. Sadly, though, there are too many people that don't see them for who they really are. And the people involved? The level of corruption is astounding!

There is certainly a big problem with "Smith County Justice" that just won't go away. But then neither will the Tyler Tea Party.

Anonymous said...

"The level of corruption is astounding!

There is certainly a big problem with "Smith County Justice" that just won't go away."

Very true. Smith County politics is a cess pool.

Anonymous said...

It passed!:
http://tylerpaper.com/article/20110515/NEWS01/305159942