Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Libal supplies front-lines blog report from Burnet County uprising against private jail

It sounds like grassroots opposition to an entrepreneurial jail proposal in Burnet County (between Austin and Waco in Central Texas) may be as strong or stronger than in Tyler, where county jail bonds recently failed by a 69-31 margin.

So many people packed the courtroom for a town hall meeting last week, reported the Burnet Bulletin (11/21), that the fire marshal had to ask some folks to leave. "Residents spilled out of the courtroom doorways, stood in the back of the room, coveted the jury box, and lined up down the stairs and out the front door waiting for a chance to speak." The intrepid Bob Libal reports from the front lines at the blog Texas Prison Bidness after attending a boisterous community meeting on the topic at the Burnet County Courthouse.
I arrived for the 7:00 p.m. meeting around 6:30 to find the old courthouse nearly full. Opponents of the jail, who seem to be very well-organized, told me they'd mailed out 7,000 fliers and placed by an ad on the local radio station announcing the meeting. I was pleased to see that audience members were being handed Considering a Private Jail, Prison or Detention Center, a pamphlet developed by Grassroots Leadership and South Texans Opposing Private Prisons, as well as a chart explaining the jail's proposed financing.

By 7:00, the courtroom was spilling well into the halls with at least 500 people, nearly all seemingly opposed to the private jail scheme. The plan, similar to those increasingly common in many Texas counties, is to finance the construction of a new county jail by floating revenue bonds (through the Public Facilities Corporation) and paying back the bonds by profiting from the importation of federal U.S. Marshals or Immigration and Customs Enforcement detainees.

Opponents of the jail were allowed to speak first. Five Burnet citizens laid out the case against the jail, including the pitfalls of private jail companies, potential dangers in floating debt for private jail expansion (perhaps county officials should look into Willacy County where every resident is currently a staggering $8,700 in debt due to prison expansion), and a general sense that shipping inmates into Burnet County wasn't necessary or good for the county.
See the rest of Libal's story for more on the corporate players behind the Burnet County deal. With jail bonds going down in Houston and Tyler, this opposition bodes ill for local pols who support issuing jail bonds without asking voter support.

Stay tuned for more on this developing local movement in Burnet County against entrepreneurial jailing.

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