Monday, August 18, 2014

Send in the clowns: Montgomery County jail woes

The Montgomery County Commissioners Court's on-again off-again love affair with private corrections just took an odd turn.

Now, after recently selling a facility next door to their own jail to the GEO Group because they couldn't maintain the terms of the phony "nonprofit" created to facilitate the deal, word comes down the county supposedly must build a new jail or spend nearly as much (around $200 million) to renovate the old one, reported the Houston Chronicle (Aug. 16) and the Cleveland Advocate (Aug. 11)

The main difference between this situation and a circus is that clowns in the circus are professionals. The commissioners court's ill-considered launch and inept (and possibly corrupt) handling of the whole private jail mess has been a comedy of errors and misjudgements that would be funnier if local taxpayers weren't footing the bill. I'd be rather surprised if voters approve a nine-figure jail bond so they can go through the whole jail-building brouhaha again. (Wanna bet commissioners try to issue the debt without voter approval?)

Grits fails to understand after all these years why, whenever public officials suggest new jail construction in response to "overcrowding," reporters don't immediately begin to question the causes and solicit solutions for excessive pretrial detention. More to the point, why didn't the consultants hired by the county suggest those options? Like other jails in the state with an overcrowding problem, most Montgomery jail inmates have not been convicted of a crime (and will receive probation even if convicted). Instead, just more than two thirds of them, according to a 7/1 TCJS report, are in jail awaiting trial, still technically presumed innocent. Most simply cannot afford bail. Statewide, about 58 percent of defendants in county jails are awaiting trial; half is not at all an unreasonable goal.

Whether the old jail needs renovation I cannot say. But to the extent the issue is building more capacity, it's likely Montgomery County officials - particularly local judges - could resolve that  without new jail construction just by expanded use of personal bonds for lower risk defendants who can't make bail. They should try that before asking taxpayers/voters to trust them with another jail building scheme.

UPDATE: The Austin Statesman reported (Aug. 18) that the same consulting firm, Broaddus & Associates, has advised Hays County it has no choice but new jail construction to respond to recent overcrowding.

AND MORE: From Off the Kuff.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Now that's a funny picture! :~)

Joorie Doodie said...

If the issue is the size of the backlog of defendants awaiting trial, has anyone considered adding more courts? I don't know the process for creating additional county courts at law, which I presume could be used to clear out misdemeanor cases... and, for that matter, what it would take to create additional district courts for other cases. At one time Smith County created a "fast track" court to dispose of cases in which defendants pled guilty. Of course the clowns here couldn't seem to figure out how to make that work and instead built a $34 million addition to the county jail.

And, yeah, you're right. Reporters tend to get stuck on the "jail overcrowding" story and don't take the effort to investigate just WHY the jails are crowded.

Anonymous said...

Who are these County Commissioners in Montgomery County? Clowns is the right word. And what about the people who elected them? We've got a lot of counties no better than Montgomery.

Anonymous said...

And how many are in county jail charged with a "class B" misdemeanor who, under the law, could have been issued a citation with court date specified on it? In other words, how many did not even have to be booked under the law?

Anonymous said...

You all are being extremely inconsiderate! How can a cop have any fun if he can't throw people in jail for such heinous crimes as graffiti? Isn't that the reason for taking the job?

Stephen Karnes said...

Clowns to the left of us, Jokers to the right, here we are, Stuck in the middle with them. - Stealers Wheel

The Montgomery County System is a bit behind the curve and they expect the citizenry to be the same. They are not. The majority of the citizens in Montgomery County have pretty good heads on their shoulders and I believe are up to the task of telling the clown circus of county commissioners NO!. And I think that picture is a fairly accurate representation of what the commissioners look like lately.

Texasyankee said...

The problem rests with the citizens. Not only do we elect people who want to jail everyone, we elect people to the legislature who want to make everything that is fun a crime. There is an old saying "Everything fun is either illegal, immoral or fattening." I generally add "or causes cancer."

Pressure groups are literally trying to make things that are immoral illegal, ban things that are fattening and have made cancer causing substances illegal.

"The fault is not in our stars but in ourselves."

Anonymous said...

A quote from the Economist...
“Third, policing would be a lot easier, and race relations a little more cordial, if America legalised drugs. One reason why so many African-Americans distrust the police is that so many young black men are sent to prison for non-violent drug offences. If drugs were legal, no one would be patted down for pills or jailed for possessing them. Illicit drug gangs would go out of business. And the police would be able to concentrate on tracking down thieves and rapists, making everyone safer. Legalising marijuana would be a good first step, following the examples of Colorado and Washington state.”

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the problem isn't so much that there are too many criminals, perhaps there are too many laws on the books that make criminals out of everyday citizens. Jails should be used to keep the violent away from the public or those who are a flight risk. Non violent offenders of petty crimes like having pot shouldn't send time in the tank when you have child molesters and violent thugs on the streets.

Anonymous said...

Hope theres enough bedspace for the commissioners. ..