Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Harris County voters barely support jail expansion, if you don't call it that

Harris County jail bonds barely passed in yesterday's election, garnering a slim 456 vote margin. or about .2% of the votes cast - almost close enough to justify a recount. According to the Houston Chronicle, the actual vote total was 112,289 in favor and 111,833 against. A pre-election poll showed that voters may have been swayed because of the (somewhat disingenuous) decision not to mention the word "jail" on the ballot but instead to refer to the measure as funding a "joint inmate processing center." With no organized opposition to the proposal and widespread establishment support, those figures tell me quite a few Harris County voters are tired of paying for endless jail expansion, by whatever name you want to call it, and would prefer for judges and the DA's office to get more serious about diversion programs.

See earlier Grits coverage: "Just don't call it a jail."

MORE: See Government Technology's coverage of computer upgrades that will be necessary for the new joint inmate processing center to function once it's built.
As one of Sheriff Adrian Garcia's chiefs put it during a recent meeting: If voters approve the bond "and we don't have that (jail management system) in place, it's not going to benefit us because it's still going to be paper driven and it's not going to accomplish the goal that we hope it will accomplish."
GT reported that the jail is expected to be built in three years and the new computer systems, which have just been put out to bid, must be functional before then. RELATED(?) Why do many big IT projects fail in government?

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

You mean like in California where violent crime rates are going back up?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Ignorant, knee jerk comments, 12:33. Little wonder you don't put your name on them. First, according to available data, CA saw a slight uptick in index crimes from 2011 to 2012, but the rate per 100,000 residents was still lower than, say, in 1960. What's more, New York has de-incarcerated FAR more rapidly than California and their crime rates have plummeted. The difference is they did it intentionally and didn't wait for tuff-on-crime policies to get so out of hand that they faced court-ordered releases.

In any event, Texas' incarceration rate has grown far more rapidly than the population, and is MUCH higher than Cali's, much less New York's so comparing our situation to theirs hardly makes sense.

Anonymous said...

I work for the Harris County Sheriff's Office. I'm not big on us spending money on expansion either, I pay taxes too. But in the defense of the proposition, I'm for it if it's done like advertised. Our Sherriff had traveled to the other three largest county jails and realized the outdated inmate processing center we have now is unsafe for both employees and those arrested. I just hope, and I'm sure it will, this doesn't turn into a brother in law deal. And off subject I'm glad the astrodome deal was voted down.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

1:17, I agree that this proposal was less problematic than the one in 2007, as I said in this post. The jail intake did need upgrading. But I'm afraid it's futile to hope "this doesn't turn into a brother in law deal." There's a first time for everything but no reason to think this will be it.

Anonymous said...

Well since they are not calling it a jail. It must be a hotel or something right? So we should trust that it would be done 'as advertised' because of the initial straightforwardness of the proposal.

Anonymous said...

It's my understanding that this is the first step to phasing out the Houston Police Department and allowing the HCSO to assume law enforcement duties for the city. Mayor Parker has expressed concerns that HPD's pensions will eventually force the city to file for bankruptcy and is working closely with Sheriff Garcia to seek approval from the commissioners and has sought legal advice in case a citywide referendum is necessary. Most of the HPD assets as well as manpower will simply transition into HCSO. The only thing that won't of course will be the pensions. I may be spilling the beans a little early but the election is over and don't see how this could cause any harm.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@4:54, if the jail expansion was really a Trojan horse for THAT agenda, the mayor and those pushing it are being naive. It wouldn't end the pension obligations they've already incurred and the police union will go apeshit over the idea. There are many more barriers to that suggestion than just who runs the city jail. Maybe it works out like that but I'll be surprised.

That said, police pay and pensions are out of whack in most large cities, in and out of Texas. Austin's got a real problem our pols are all too cowardly to confront - it's devouring the budget and squeezing out resources for all other priorities. But IMO it's not a situation that can be resolved through stealth - the debate will have to be public and it'll be a big, nasty fight with lots of blood-spilling and collateral political consequences, if it ever happens.

Anonymous said...

IMO hpd and other municipal pd-s will not go away. But we may be going down the road to making hcso the jailers for every jurisdiction in the county. Back where I hail from the county sheriff does nothing but run the jail.

Have we just agreed to building the rejected super jail one piece at a time?

Recount is a good idea, though the only ballots able to be recounted would be the mail ins.

BC Laing said...

How about they turn the Astrodome into a jail/processing center? I mean the infrastructure and design are already there.... You've got restroom facilities in the same place on every level so how about installing some bars and bunks? Field level could be processing, or it could be an indoor "tent city" type of Joe Arpaio setup. Just saying. I think it's great that the voters of Harris County have spoken to get ahead of the game. Yes, the decision to raise the Dome disappoints me (I'll get off my soapbox right meow, as this is not the forum for such discussion) but how about keeping it standing and using it to currently decrease inmate populations in the current jails and provide space for the ever increasing population AND keep an Houston Icon standing?

Anonymous said...

Screw the need to reply to knee jerk comments from the same exact person every other damn day.

Instead, how about we consider addressing the problem. The problem being, Why in the hell are the citzens of H.C. not concerned with the reasons for arresting vs. citing in non-arrestable offenses? Simple catch, cite & release would squash the need to put money in good ol buddies construction firms and vendors accounts.

Ex: Fake Outstanding Traffic Tickets, not wearing a seatbelt, cussing in public, riding a bike on a damn sidewalk, having a joint or dime bag of weed, having a trace element of somthing, having no money in ones pocket, being in an area after a certain hour, being on probation or parole while in public, being taught to run when the cops round the corner no matter what...

Other readers that have been arrested, for fake shit and non arrestable offenses (at the officer's discression) have the floor.

Anonymous said...

"It's my understanding that this is the first step to phasing out the Houston Police Department and allowing the HCSO to assume law enforcement duties for the city. Mayor Parker has expressed concerns that HPD's pensions will eventually force the city to file for bankruptcy and is working closely with Sheriff Garcia to seek approval from the commissioners and has sought legal advice in case a citywide referendum is necessary. Most of the HPD assets as well as manpower will simply transition into HCSO. The only thing that won't of course will be the pensions. I may be spilling the beans a little early but the election is over and don't see how this could cause any harm."

I call BS on this whole comment. I suppose you're the same person that used to write virtually the exact same thing on all the Chronicle op-eds about pensions but nothing has changed.

The city is about as likely to give up the power and taxes used by their police department as the various Constables are to shut down their offices. There is too much money changing hands and Parker has long been a huge supporter of HPD to even consider such a proposal.

As Grits points out, even if the details could be worked out regarding geographic responsibilities, any accrued debts will not go away and the County is unlikely to assume any such mass responsibility when it cannot even afford to properly staff the unincorporated parts of the county, nor would county voters living outside the city agree to pay for such a force.

As far as the original assertion regarding voters not wanting more jail space, that is another red herring. This proposal was designed to get the city out of the jail/holding business altogether, finishing off the federal oversight it has been under for decades. It will save the city money to drop the 300 or so civilian jailers and allow the small number of police assigned there to assume other duties.

The reason most people seemed to vote against it per media reports and personal anecdotes was they simply didn't trust the city or the county to do this the right way without the aforementioned brother in law deals. Remember the last time such a scheme was hatched? The owners of the land the facility was to be built on had protested his taxes every year yet wanted the city/county to pay ten times what he said it was worth!

Folks in the county don't trust the city and those in the city don't trust the county, sadly both groups having ample reason not to trust the respective governmental organizations. It makes sense to handle things like this proposal sets up based on running costs, expertise, and efficiency but old habits die hard and trust is not built in a day.

Anonymous said...

Lands to valuable...