Friday, September 23, 2005

Overincarceration boosts Travis taxes

The Travis county jail is full, and expanding it will force new tax increases, the Austin Statesman reported Wednesday. New jail spending involves serious opportunity costs: in the same budget, spending on roads in the traffic-jammed Texas capital declines by 9%. Guess that means the commissioners court thinks Travis county voters would rather pay to incarcerate low-level offenders than build adequate road capacity -- I bet they're wrong. In any event, the jail soaks up most new spending in the budget. Reported the Statesman:

Much of the county's spending increase would go toward dealing with jail crowding, according to the county [budget] report.

"Clearly," the report states, "the predominant theme in this budget is the obligation to fund the dramatic increase in the jail population." ...

Christian Smith, head of the Planning and Budget Office, said the county had planned late last year to beef up programs dealing with substance abuse, mentally ill inmates and work force development.

Those plans were dropped when the inmate population began rising more quickly than expected. A system equipped to handle about 2,400 inmates daily is now expected to deal with about 2,700 in 2006, according to the budget report.

See earlier Grits coverage of overincarceration at county jails in Travis, Tarrant and Harris counties.

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