Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Rent-a-bed policy, not Rita, responsible for Gregg County jail turning away prisoners

Overincarceration at the Gregg County jail in East Texas has forced local law enforcement officials to "turn away" nonviolent offenders in the near term. Officials blamed Hurricane Rita, even though state jail population reports show the bulk of the problem was caused by their own management choices:
The city of Longview also has agreed to not arrest Class C misdemeanor warrants for about 15 days while the jail grapples with an overcrowding situation spurred by the addition of 30 inmates from Southeast Texas prisons.
The problem was compounded when the state's criminal justice department canceled all jail transports due to Hurricane Rita.
"We're supposed to have double digits going out last week and this week," Cerliano said Friday, noting that 95 offenders on state parole warrants were already at the jail.
"The state quit taking them, so they put us in a bind."
Those 95 offenders, though, even added to the 30 evacuees, aren't why overcrowding forced fewer arrests. Instead, Gregg County has rented out nearly half its jail beds on contract -- 234 out of a jail population of 536, according to the September 1, 2005 Jail Population report (pdf). So Gregg County taxpayers paid to build plenty of jail space for their local needs, but the county's leaders filled it up with inmates from other jurisdictions so that in time of emergency, all their extra capacity was predictably gone.

That's just bad management by the Sheriff and the Gregg County commissioners court, reducing public safety for their own community in order to generate a slush fund housing other's prisoners. (It's a good thing the Sheriff already got his $700,000 budget increase approved this year I guess.)

Across the state other counties are making the same mistake, even building new jail capacity speculatively hoping to lease beds out to the other entities in an essentially entrepreneurial fashion. Much of the boom is driven by the US Marshals Service, which must find somewhere to house defendants in the skyrocketing number of immigration cases the US Attorney in Texas' Southern District (Houston) has chosen to prosecute.

Just as President Eisenhower warned of a military-industrial complex, a prison-industrial complex has arisen that views incarceration not as a sad outcome to be avoided, but, improperly, as a venue for entrepreneurship, seemingly inspired by a weird sort of greed-driven, state-sponsored schadenfreude. What's happening in Gregg County shows that such policies aren't just cynical and soulless, they're bad for public safety.


Anonymous said...

"The (DrugWar finacial) chickens are coming home to roost." Just as occasional 'corrections' (read, recessions and depressions) follow periods of wild speculation, the prison/industrial complex is now facing having to pay the bill for all the DrugWar-sired prison building mania of the 1980's and 1990's.

And with the Republicans suddenly getting all pious about frugality after spending like the proverbial drunken sailor, the States and localities are facing bankruptcy themselves for their part in this 'children's crusade' of a DrugWar .

The self-appointed faux-moral proctors be damned; either the War on Drugs is consigned to the same trash bin as alcohol Prohibition was, or it will destroy the remaining tatters of the financial structure of this country. It isn't 'guns or butter' anymore, it's dropped all the way down down to basic survival in an economy shrinking daily while being blasted by the twin shotgun barrels of the Iraq War and natural disasters. Something's gotta give...and soon.

Anonymous said...

I would chase the money trail. If somebody is making money caging people, they must be kicking back money to the people who have the power to increase the demand for caging. These are the people we need to put in prisons.