Monday, August 13, 2007

Harris Sheriff wants to take out understaffing failure on inmate families

There is one fundamental reason the Harris County Sheriff wants to turn to "virtual" visits instead of in-person ones - his department cannot afford to fully staff their jail, and can't find enough jailers willing to take the jobs. So they're reducing all non-essential staffing requirements, and inmates' families must pay the price. If a November bond election passes, reports the Houston Chronicle ("Plan calls for inmate visits to go virtual," Aug. 13), inmate visits may all be held via videoconferencing:

A major appeal of a video system to law enforcement is the reduction in the number of guards needed to accommodate face-to-face visitations, according to Chief Deputy Mike Smith of the Harris County Sheriff's Office.

"More than anything else (in-person visits) are manpower-intensive," said Smith, who oversees the jail system.

Presently the Harris County jail processes more than 640,000 inmate visits per year. Smith fantasizes that jailers presently spending time escorting all those inmates will be free to staff yet more jail facilities Harris wants to build with the same bond money. Where does it end?

The head of the local criminal defense bar declared that "Most of the people in the jail haven't been convicted of a damn thing, and to deny them human contact is ridiculous." I tend to agree. I'm not at all opposed to adding "virtual visits" to the range of options, but it's wrong to exclude in-person visits, especially for kids.

Just like at TYC where understaffing creates a false choice between use of force and pepper spray, understaffing at the Harris jail has created a false choice between personal and virtual visits. The very need for a choice at all is a function of the understaffing crisis that's affecting not just Harris but other counties, TYC, and the state prison system.

We can no longer afford to simply lock more and more people up as a solution to social problems. Literally Texas has incarcerated so many people, at both the state and local level, we can no longer hire people to guard them, at least at prevailing wages. Tack onto that the demand for guards from immigration detention centers and private prisons, and we've simply run up against the limit of folks in the state willing to take these jobs.

The answer to this crisis isn't to punish the families of inmates by cost shifting onto them. Rather the Sheriff, county commissioners, the DA, judges, and local police must take responsibility for their own role in creating these problems. I sympathize with jail administrators looking for creative solutions to overcrowding, and I've tried to suggest a few.

But the November bond scheme ignores the root of the crisis: Harris cannot build their way out of its problems, and can't staff new facilities if they're built. Indeed, I need to take a closer look at the bond package. For a county that just last year had prisoners sleeping on the floor and simultaneously an unopened jail wing because of lack of staffing, I don't see how they think they can staff new facilities now.


GeorgeH said...

"Rather the Sheriff, county commissioners, the DA, judges, and local police must take responsibility for their own role in creating these problems."

Yeah, gotta stop that arresting for breaking the law stuff.

It's the legislature that passes the laws and creates the crimes. Are you suggesting that law enforcement override their legislation?

Get the legislature to void most laws on victimless crimes. They caused the problems, they and trash humans, and only they can fix it.

Anonymous said...

I'm doing this again, as the first time seems not to have taken.

My comment is that the next step for the Sheriff and County Commissioners to take is to start charging for in-person visits. The potential is there for raising funds for the County, so they may do it.

Anonymous said...

George, please read Grits suggestions for how they should do that before you make arguments that demonstrate your own ignorance.

I'm sure Grits agrees with you that many victimless crimes should be decriminalized. But he's also written MANY examples of how to reduce jail overcrowding, you just haven't read them. See the links under "I've tried to suggest a few", and then follow the links from there. Then come say that stuff.

Also, if they implement the new bill to give tickets for low-level misdmeanors, police WILL stop arresting some people who break the law. Gov. Perry signed the bill. Because why fill a cell with the woman with a suspended driver license and let the thug go free? Just because you're an jerk?

I'm probably reacting more to your statements about TYC than this quote, but you don't seem like a pleasant person. Please read and think a little more before you run your mouth so much. For some of us all this matters more than you grinding some political ax. That's what blogs like Kos and Little Green Footballs are for, not here.

Anonymous said...

Sheeeeiiit! yo ass don't hafta go down there and pay parking!
Put it up on a website if they gonna do dat!

Anonymous said...

What's a "trash human"???

Anonymous said...

anon @ 3.13 ~ are you serious????????? Charging inmates families to visit them???? Dont you understand ANYTHING about how much money inmate families already put into the incarceration system in Texas?

I think video-link visits are a great idea - for those in TDCJ whose loved one gets placed at the other side of the state, not for people who live just a few miles from a county jail and are visiting someone who has not yet been proven guilty of anything.

I tell you what, why not take a portion of everyone's weekly wage and put that in the incarceration system's bank account. Oh wait, you already do that, it's called TAXES.

Anonymous said...

Is this how Sheriff Thomas visits his son? His son has 4 felonies, one for shoting a man but the man did not die, therefore no jail time. I for one hope we have a Sheriff change and soon. Thomas is not the dictator he would have everyone believe and to throw stones, you have to clean your own house first. Don't deny visits to loved ones because you can't hire people to work for you. Treat them better and you might be surprised!

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I totally agree about being able to do it over the web. I think a) it's fine to make it an option and b) if you do you should allow access from home web hookups. But personal visits shouldn't be banned.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Oh, and I'd bet that's NOT how the Sheriff visits his son, if I were a betting man. ;)

Anonymous said...

Sunray: I'm not advocating that visitors be charged; I'm just pointing out that, given the venal behaviour of so many local politicians, it is possible that they would do something like that.

They would frame it as a choice: You can do video visits for free, but the County will exact a "service charge" if you want to visit in person.

And why would they stop at that? For an additional fee, you could visit a loved one in private. And for even more of a fee, overnight.

Don't ever underestimate the capacity of elected bureaucrats to act in the smallest, meanest way possible when it comes to dealing with the incarcerated percentage of our population.

Anonymous said...

anon @ 3.13/4.02 ~ I've said the same thing many times myself, but NOT in relation to those in county jails who have yet to go to trial. Those people have not been proven guilty yet, and to make it an either/or choice is wrong.
For inmates in TDCJ, who HAVE been found guilty, then maybe it should be a consideration, as long as the basic level of visitation remains the way it is now. TDCJ already use video links for inmates and medical staff. I would pay for the option of staying overnight with my hubby, but not at the risk of losing regular visits altogether.

Anonymous said...

You can not blame the sheriff. It is commissioners court. They do not want to spend the money on hiring and keeping jailers and deputies. They want to get out of running a jail. It cost them to much. Next when playing the blame game is to blame the crook. I did not force them to commit the crime. If you want crime to slow down you have to punish the person for the crime. Right now we do not punish. We put them up in a hotel. Three meals a day. Laundry service. TV and recreation. Todays crooks have no respect for you or anyone. If you think you can trust these turds. Then you have them move near where you live. These crooks pray upon the weak and stupied people that think and believe the police are just picking on these little lamb's. If you really want to see how nice these turds have it. apply and become a jailer or a deputy. I bet after you see for yourself. You will change your mind about how these poor babies are treated.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

And what would you prefer we do instead of lock them up in a "hotel"? I'm fine with closing the hotel down and trying something else. What's your solution?

Anonymous said...

well I would start with making what I call a hotel back into a jail. I do not have a problem stacking them deep. We need to bring back real punishments. IE. Chaing gangs and really punish the criminal. It is just to easy for them. Like I said. If you really want to know how good these turds have it. Then you need to become a jailer or a deputy. See what it is all about. Walk a mile in our shoes, before you are so quick to judge us. As long as these turds are not held accountable for their actions. Then crime will continue.