Thursday, February 21, 2008

Grayson County Judge pushing irresponsible jail building scheme

Grayson County Judge Drue Bynum has been promoting a bizarre solution to local jail overcrowding, trying to convince the public that the county can expand the jail without paying for it ("it's free, trust me") by partnering with a private contractor. He's even trying to get Grayson County College to give away land to a contractor to build the private facility. Reported the Sherman Herald-Democrat ("County judge approaches Grayson County College trustees about donating land for a new county jail," Feb. 21), Bynum:
wants to see the county go with a plan that involves private financing to keep the tax payers from having to pay to increase the size of the jail. Getting free land at the airport would help that happen, he said.

When trustees questioned why the county didn't use its own land at the airport, Bynum said the answer is simple. The land that the college owns doesn't sit as close to the runway as the county property does.

Building the jail on the county property, Bynum said, might (his emphasis) mean that some companies that might have otherwise looked at the airport would go somewhere else.

Bynum noted that the college has some land behind the Viticulture Building that would be a good place for the jail. He said 50 acres would be great for a jail built to accommodate up to 1,500 inmates.

Trustees asked why the county needed to build such a large jail when the county doesn't need that many beds. Bynum explained that a private company would have to build many more beds than Grayson County needs to be able to make a profit off the jail. He said the additional beds then would be offered to other entities at prices above what Grayson County would pay.

Trustees wanted to know if the county had considered just building to suit its needs and not worrying about the private funding. Bynum said all options have been considered, but he doesn't want to see tax payers foot the bill for the jail.
This is an unbelievably bad idea based on an economically flawed premise, that taxpayers won't "foot the bill for the jail."

Of course they will! For starters, he's asking the college to give some private company the land for free. But even more than that, for the company to pay its construction debt, the county must pay for its prisoners, which means it must pay the cost of housing the inmates (which it would have to pay anyway) PLUS the company's profits.

Whether the county or a private contractor operates the facility, it still must meet minimum standards set by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, so it won't be any cheaper to operate (except to the extent that a private company pays its employees less than deputies make - a marginal benefit at best in the scheme of things that's wiped out if the company takes a profit).

And of course, if the company can't find other entities willing to lease the beds at an inflated price, the county will be stuck with the full tab for space it doesn't need, since it will still need to operate a jail.

What the Judge proposes is a massive gamble his county should reject. Let John McCain be elected and get immigration reform, for example, and the private prison market could see a massive glut in Texas overnight as detention centers empty.

Like other Texas counties, Grayson could solve its short-term jail crisis just by reducing its rate of pretrial detention. Grayson lies at the extreme end of a statewide trend of increased pretrial detention. Statistician Tony Fabelo reported recently that "overall jail population increased 18.6% between 2000-2007, he said, the number of pretrial detainees increased 49.2% over the same period." A consultant hired by the county found that 73% of jail inmates were pretrial detainees, meaning they had been convicted of no crime and could leave if they could afford bail.

From these numbers I don't think Grayson actually needs to build a new jail. But if they did, taxpayers are better off if the county just builds the jail that it needs. It doesn't make sense to me to subsidize some speculative mega-jail as an entrepreneurial venture, and I hope Judge Bynum's colleagues on the commissioners court shoot it down.


Anonymous said...

Please come and spend a night in the current Grayson County jail prior to your declarations of "irresponsible."

Anonymous said...

I could build a great jail with barbed wire, armed guards and tents.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If I came and spent the night there, I'd just be one more inmate who doesn't need to be there!

With 73% of inmates awaiting trial, Grayson's jail overcrowding problem is volitional - a choice, not an inevitability.

And as I said, even if there is a problem, the financing mechanism the Judge proposes is irresponsible. If the county needs a jail, it should issue bonds and build one like everybody else.

And @2:37, you say you could, but tent jails are unsafe (too easy to throw a gun or contraband over the fence), and the Commission on Jail Standards won't allow them as a permanent solution.

Anonymous said...

again grits read everything Grayson County has done...not just the one headline and an old study. As usual one sided.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I've covered the mental health court. The pretrial detention rate is 73%. What are you hoping I'll cover? And how would that change the speculative and irresponsible nature of the financing mechanism?

Oh, and the "old" study by the consultant was produced for the county last fall.

What's the other side I'm ignoring, again?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

And be sure to point WHERE I should read what else the county is doing. The study you derided is the most comprehensive recent thing I've seen.

Anonymous said...

If the current county jail is old and in need of maintenance, it might be better financially to bring it up to current standards by spending the money to it!

Grits is right, there is something smelly in the "deal" with the private contractor.

The college could give the land to the county......

Anonymous said...

Maybe the Texas Association of Counties award for special prosecutors to reduce jail over crowding that has shown effectiveness in just 8-months. Our mental health court, family drug court and Star drug court all show the County's innovation.

This is a substandard condition issue. A jail standards issue. It is your bias on private facilities. No amount or retrofit will make the place better.

The study concluded on September 2005 not last year as you point out.

Applaud a new county judge for going north, south, east and west to citizens and asking the question, "What do you want for our County!" Not a thing shoved down the throats of citizens. If our citizens want our commissioners court to move forward with this proposal, so be it.

All of this information is in the same place that you got the article, our local newspaper.

Did you Google to find Grayson County?

Your blog, have the bias you wish.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Here's the study online. It's dated March 2007. The press coverage around it was last fall. I just googled, btw, and didn't find any of the information you referenced. Please point me to it.

Till then, your judge is not asking people what they want, he's advocating subsidies for a private company, which the consultant said was a bad idea (because you can't contract out liability).

As I said, if the issue is maintenance and that the jail is run down, the county should just finance it. I'm not biased against privatization so much as speculative overbuilding - this is a boondoggle waiting to eat the taxpayers' lunch.

There's a sucker born every minute and maybe there's enough suckers in Grayson County to support this proposal. If so, it will be to the taxpayers' detriment.

Anonymous said...

That's just the 2007 presentation. Sorry grits it was concluded in 2005.

Again your blog, your bias.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

What bias? Either the study was published in 2007 (when it's dated) or 2005 (when you say, though you have no documentation). Either way, that's not a bias question, it's a question of fact.

Anonymous said...

You fail to mention the study has multi-layers of recommendations that, if followed, still would require the building of a jail. All but pre-trial have been implemented. The jail still requires building. The County Judge keeps the lines of communication open with Grayson County citizens with the "irresponsible jail building scheme." How many jails have passed in Texas? How about in counties the size of Grayson? It is a plan. One that motivates us to conversation, debate and discussion not from a biased position; but, from a desire to do what’s right as our county sees fit. Your bias is against financing mechanism only or privatization in general? You are welcome to run for political office during a time of taxpayer disgust and increased state mandate.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

As for recommendations about pretrial detention being the only ones not implemented, that was the primary cause of the problem!

My "bias," to the extent there is one, is against building extra jail space the county doesn't need on a speculative basis. The idea that a new mega-jail will be "free" is a misnomer - an economic falsity. Taxpayers must still pay for the jail through fees to a private company, and if the company can't find inmates to fill the extra spaces, it will cost Grayson taxpayers a LOT more than it would if they just built the jail they need. That's the "irresponsible" part.

Anonymous said...

We will continue to agree to disagree. Good night Grits. Enjoyed the conversation. Happy blogging. (We know each other, you would not remember.)

Anonymous said...

Mr. Grits,
My name is Drue Bynum. The County Judge of Grayson County. I'd love the opportunity of discussing the options as we see it. Believe it or not, the articles you are referencing haven't quite captured the entirety of the situation.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Sure, Judge - shoot me an email at shenson[at] with a phone number and let me know when would be a good time to chat.

Anonymous said...

Pretty impressive grits, don't know about the "Mr" part! Let us know the the Judge has to say.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Hey, I kinda like "Mr. Grits" - shows a little respect to a blogger, don't you think? ;)

Anonymous said...

If you would like to sample the opinions of many southeast Shermanites about the proposed placement of a mega-jail in our backyards, please visit our humble little blog:

Anonymous said...

Grits, you are correct...Grayson County is equally corrupt as Collin County....the deals they do to build and the inmates waiting for trial going to trial or currently in trial...Please! Can anyway say, DISCRIMINATORY< CROOKED AND CORRUPT? And yes, if you think its bad...just wait to hear what the Grayson County TYC appointee Board Member will suggest....someone should go monitor the juvenile courts in Grayson and Collin County and see what you get....crooked and criminal and shaking hands with corrupt private bidders and drinks with Satan....but no one wants to admit it. Grits has clear and present eye sight....heed the warning...its right on target.

Bygningsentreprise said...

"Grayson County Judge pushing irresponsible jail building scheme". I hope that this problem will be resolved as soon as possible.