Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Waiting on the Lege to solve county jail overcrowding?

McLennan County officials say they need "help from Austin" to solve their jail overcrowding problem, but don't own up to the role of their own local decisionmakers in causing and continuing the situation. An editorial from the Waco Tribune Herald ("State lawmakers need to help county jails with overcrowding," Feb. 23) begins:

No matter how fervent you are about law and order, some people just don’t need to be taking up precious space in county jail, especially when it’s packed full and costing we the taxpayers to house them elsewhere.

That’s good enough reason for state lawmakers to iron out legal impediments that keep officials like our sheriff from using electronic ankle monitors to keep track of nonviolent, low-risk offenders.

McLennan County Judge Jim Lewis, who plans to meet with state Sen. Kip Averitt, R-Waco, and his staff this week, hopes the influential legislator can carry the bill this session. We hope so, too. We need some help from Austin.

I certainly understand why McLennan County doesn't want to pay to jail petty offenders. I don't blame them, but they don't need ankle monitors to solve the problem. Last year, Grits identified the main sources of overcrowding in Waco and suggested several approaches to reduce their jail population that the county still isn't using:

According to ... data from the Commission on Jail Standards, McLennan County has the second highest incarceration rate in Texas among counties with more than 200,000 people, incarcerating more than 4 people per 1,000 residents. More than 20% of McLennan's pretrial detainees (95 out of 473 as of April 1) are charged only with misdemeanors

More than half of McLennan's jail inmates were incarcerated awaiting trial as of April 1st, while not too many years ago the statewide average was only 30%. To get back closer to that level, judges need to more aggressively use pretrial services to vet low-level offenders for release on personal bonds.

The Sheriff, Waco PD and county commissioners should also look at implementing HB 2391 in their county, which allows officers to give citations instead of arresting for certain low-level, non-violent misdemeanors. I've argued repeatedly since it passed in 2007 that voters should reject new jail building proposals if their officials aren't using new tools available to them to reduce overcrowding, particularly the new discretion under HB 2391.

The other option McLennan commisioners should pursue is to create low-level incarceration alternatives, perhaps modeled after the day reporting center in Tyler which has saved big bucks for a comparably sized jurisdiction.

Today, little has changed. More than 21% of McLennan's pretrial detainees are misdemeanants (or they were on Feb. 1), and McLennan has risen in the ranks and now has the highest incarceration rate statewide among counties with more than 200,000 people. That's not the Legislature's fault, it's the result of choices by local police, prosecutors and judges.

Similarly, other Texas jurisdictions, most recently Austin PD, have begun using new authority granted by the Lege in 2007 to issue citations for more petty misdemeanants to reduce overcrowding and keep more officers on the street. If overcrowding is such a big problem, why hasn't Waco PD done so, or for that matter the McLennan County Sheriff?

Plus, GPS is not a panacea. If someone is a flight risk, they can easily enough detach the ankle bracelet and run. And as a recent item at Sentencing Law & Policy showed, GPS doesn't prevent crime, plus the tactic requires quite a bit of manpower to manage if it's going to serve a meaningful supervisory purpose.

While I think GPS tracking has its uses in certain, narrow circumstances, it's hardly a wholesale solution to counties' excessive use of pretrial detention. Even if the Lege granted such authority, McLennan County would need to use other tools available to them to actually effect the overcrowding problem.

If counties want the Legislature to bail them out of their home-grown jail overcrowding problems, they should at least demonstrate they're using all the tools the Legislature already gave them to address the issue.


Anonymous said...

Another jail under the management of CEC, formerly known as CiviGenics See below

McLennan County Detention Center warden says jail will be back in compliance soon

Saturday, February 07, 2009

By Tommy Witherspoon

Tribune-Herald staff writer

Anonymous said...


Nacogdoches County Paper Ready Project
Contact: County Judge Joe English 936-560-7755

Jail over-crowding is a serious issue in the state. For Nacogdoches County, jail crowding forced taxpayers to spend more than $250,000 over the budgeted amount in one year alone.

County Judge Joe English, along with other top criminal justice officials, asked for assistance from the National Institute for Corrections (NIC). An initial assessment from NIC showed linkages between jail crowding and other components of the criminal justice system. The assessment made it clear that each component of the criminal justice system, from law enforcement to the judiciary, influenced the jail inmate population and that the problem of jail crowding must be approached from a systemwide perspective.

The county then utilized Stephen F. Austin State University for further research on the problem. The county decided to focus on its pen packet process, or the paperwork process that is necessary to transfer inmates from the county jail to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison system.

The time that elapses from oral sentencing to completion and submission of the Pen Packet is crucial to jail crowding, as it contributes to the length of stay. Research revealed that an inmate’s paperwork took an average of 36 days to travel through the five county offices before its completion. The county researched the flow of the paperwork and found that the system, without any central oversight, was prone to unnecessary delays.

The commissioners court decided to hire a person whose sole responsibility was to streamline the paper-ready process, but first they conducted an experiment to see if the approach would truly make a difference.

The county contracted with a consultant to develop new oversights and efficiencies in the system so that when the judgment is sent to the judge for his signature, the Pen Packet was almost completed. She then performed the task for four months to test and work out further inefficiencies in the process.

The results were remarkable. The total time from sentencing to “paper-ready” went from 36 days to only 3 days. The jail population, which is constantly revolving, fell from 230 to 167. Savings to taxpayers were calculated at more than $60,000 for a three-month period, so the position quickly paid for itself


Kaufman County Public Defender Office
Contact: Andrew Jordan, chief public defender 972-932-0248

With recent population growth, Kaufman County has quickly moved from being a rural to mid-sized county and is experiencing everything that goes with it. In a three-year period, people who qualified for indigent defense doubled from 630 to 1,247 per year. Associated costs to the county skyrocketed from $200,000 to $1.2 million per year. The increased costs stemmed not only from the population shift but from rising attorneys fees and other related costs as well.

Utilizing $190,000 from a task force discretionary grant, Kaufman became the first midsized Texas county to establish a comprehensive public defenders office with two public defenders, an investigator and secretary. The grant requires that the public defender see indigent defendants within 24 hours.

Andrew Jordan, its chief public defender, initially focused on reducing jail overcrowding. This initiative paid off. Since November 2007, the average daily jail population has shrunk from 430 to around 250. Since it costs about $40 a day to house an inmate, the reduction in jail population created a huge savings. And with the extra space, the sheriff is now renting out roughly 70 beds to other counties.

During its first year, savings from the public defender’s office cut the county’s indigent defense costs in half, from $1.2 million to $600,000. County taxpayers also saved $2.8 million from the inmate population reduction and gained $100,000 from jail bed rental fees.

The Kaufman County Public Defenders Office staff takes pride in giving the poorest persons in their county the same access to the justice system as the richest, and in defending their clients’ rights as vigorously and adequately as possible.

Anonymous said...

I imagine Mclennan County wants their free stuff too. Anyway I'm sure they realize that politicians in Austin know much better how to handle their problems than they do. Big brother knows best.
Mclennan County does have an unusually high number of murders and violent crimes. The prisoners I interviewed in that jail had all committed violent crimes and had violent criminal histories. I worked as a private investigator there and it was scary. That being said, I bdo not believe McLennan County needs help from Austin, they are just looking for freebies. McLennan County needs to evaluate their situation and manage better just like most other places that are struggling but, I guess bail outs and hand outs are all the rage these days.

Anonymous said...

I've been combing through Williamson County online arrest records. I've ran across arrest records for individuals that I don't quite understand. Here are a few examples of what I've seen: ran stop sign, ran red light, failed to signal lane change, speeding 46 in a 35, no fishing license, expired registration, no seat belt, parked in handicap, cut across driveway to make u-turn. These arrests were one charge per person arrested, not multiple charges per person.

Anonymous said...

How do you go through arrest records online?

Anonymous said...

Williamson County Jail Records search:

For last name enter the letter a. Go through all the a's then enter b, etc.

You can open each record to see what the charges were at the time of the arrest.