Sunday, September 17, 2006

Jail bond vote may become annual affair in Tyler

Have you ever noticed how many unpopular local proposals show up on the ballot several times before their backers get lucky and sneak them past the voters? After several years and several turns on the ballot, some government projects take on a certain aura of inevitability, I guess, as the once-vocal opposition dissipates and long-term institutional interests wait out their grassroots foes.

I hate that.

Next May in my home town, Tyler voters will get a chance to reject again plans for a new jail they decisively rejected earlier this year. Voters mandate or no, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards last week told Smith County it needed to build new jail space to accomodate the current incarceration growth rate ("Commission says county needs bigger jail facility," Tyler Morning Telegraph, 9/15).
"Smith County would need, at a minimum, 1,531 jail beds by the year 2025," the commission said. "We recommend no less than 1,536 beds be considered and that consideration be given to an additional 96 beds to act as a buffer for future unexpected growth."

Currently, Smith County's three facilities can house a maximum of 755 inmates. And as of Friday, the county had 340 inmates housed in other counties, at a rate of $41 per inmate per day.

The commission based its analysis on a number of factors, Pinkerton explained.

"Basically, what they do is they look at your average daily population, your incarceration rate and so on," he said. "And Smith County is growing."

The commission noted that while the state average for incarceration is 2.7 prisoners per 1,000 in population, the average in Smith County is 5.04 per 1,000.

"The incarceration rate is higher in Smith County," Pinkerton acknowledged. "A lot of factors go into that; but basically law enforcement is doing its job."

Welcome to Smith County justice.

If you ask me, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards did Smith County a disservice here by telling them to more than double the current jail size. The County's high local incarceration rate clearly drives the jail overcrowding problem; Smith County's incarceration rate is 87% above the statewide average. TCJS instead should tell the County to investigate ways to reduce its incarceration rate - don't just advise them to build out more beds based on currently outrageous incarceration trends!

Judge Cynthia Kent, a respected Republican with 21 years on the bench in Tyler, thinks Smith County doesn't need a new jail. She has proposed alternatives the county should explore and fund that would reduce incarceration pressures and improve public safety.

Smith County should fund and implement Judge Kent's plan for a Day Reporting Center now, then see if it's necessary to put anything before the voters.


Anonymous said...

Do you know how many are non violent drug offenders? How much room would that create if you took them out of jail?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

the majority, certainly are nonviolent offenders. Some of the details are in the prior, linked posts.