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.