Thursday, October 15, 2009

Pretrial defendants, not convicted felons, are main cause of Howard County jail overcrowding

Having tracked county jail overcrowding issues on Grits over the last several years, there's one pass-the-buck excuse I'm sick of hearing from Texas county Sheriffs that wrongly deflects accountability for local actors: The idea that jails are full because already-convicted prisoners are lingering around waiting for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to take them off their hands. TDCJ must transport them to a state facility within 45 days (usually less). In Howard County, reports a local TV station:
Sheriff Stan Parker says state prisons have been backed up forcing them to hold dozens of inmates for more than a month.

"It's frustrating for us because these people are sentenced, ready to go to jail, and you can't get them out of your jail, because they can't except them. But I understand it's not their fault they have this problem, because they're doing their job, just like we're doing ours," Howard County Sheriff Stan Parker, said.

Local officials are hoping the back up in the Texas prison system is solved. But Sheriff Parker says right now, that's not likely, and for now he says they're having to make adjustments.
Let's look at Howard County's most recent jail population data (pdf) from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards. As of September 1, they had 73 people locked up in a jail designed to hold 96 inmates. Of those, just 9 had been convicted of felonies and were waiting to go to TDCJ. By contrast, the jail held 44 pretrial defendants, including 19 being held on misdemeanor charges. Just like other Texas jurisdictions, pretrial detention is the primary source of recent jail overcrowding in Howard County, but saying that implicates local judges and the commissioners court.

The National Association of Counties recently put out a publication, Jail Population Management: Elected County Officials' Guide to Pretrial Services (pdf), that might might give Howard County officials a few more clues about how to address this problem than their Sheriff is presently providing them.

There are a lot of ways to skin that cat: Reduce bail or give more personal bonds, establish a day reporting center, use GPS tracking, divert mentally ill offenders to supervised treatment, get prosecutors to evaluate cases quicker, create a public defender office so indigent counsel is assigned sooner. The problem is, all those things require one or more local actors to change how they've traditionally done things, and no one ever wants to. So the Sheriff blames TDCJ, whose real contribution to the problem is minimal. That excuse in particular, though, is getting tired.


Anonymous said...

Scott you are my hero, thank you for acknowledging that reducing the bail is an option; and you actually gave us front billing.

This option cost taxpayers zero, requires no political think tanks, which as we all know is just another excuse for spending tax dollars, and it would serve to solve a huge problem immediately, and most importantly, responsibly.

The sole purpose for bail is to guarantee the defendants court appearance, something professional bail agents have done and been doing effectively and more to the point, responsibly, for many many years.

They do so much much more effectively than Government (Pre-trial Release) [Free bonds].

They do so much much much more effectively than percentage to the court bonds.

They do so much much much much more effectively than cash bonds.

And all the above do so much much much much more effectively than emergency let em go bonds.

So save the already burdened tax payer a bundle and just reduce the bonds.

Your friendly neighborhood bondsman.

Jim B said...

Harris County has over 5000 pre-trial detainees who haven't been convicted of anything. Sheriff Garcia, just like his peer in Howard County, blames the State of Texas for local jail overcrowding. Shameful misinformation at best. We're sending folks across the State because we cannot house them locally.

Keep up the brilliant work Grits!

Anonymous said...

Minor correction on your info:
A WHITE Warrant will get you sent back to TDC, your parole has been terminated.

A BLUE Warrant is a Motion to Revoke Parole and is used by the BOPP as an attention getter for the parolee. He is held in the local jail until the BOPP holds a parole hearing with the inmate. Often times this hearing is held in the jail and the inmate is reinstated, back on the street.
They call it jail therapy. It doesn't cost TDCJ-ID a dime.
It's the same game that the judges play with their probationers;
technical violators sit in jail in time out.

Scott, if you could blow this story out onto the main stage, you would be the hero of every Sheriff and most law officers in the state.
Just watch out for those judges.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks 5:43, that was just a brain fart! I fixed the white/blue warrant terminology in the text.

BorkBorkBork said...

"The sole purpose for bail is to guarantee the defendants court appearance"

Maybe in theory. In reality keeping people in jail pre-trial is a great method for reducing the number of trials. Most people will lose the will to fight the charges after a few days in jail. Even the innocent ones will plead guilty if the offer is time served. If we turn them loose we'll have a corresponding increase in jury trials.

Anonymous said...

Right on point Scott.

Retired TX Chief Deputy Sheriff 2009

PirateFriedman said...

"Maybe in theory. In reality keeping people in jail pre-trial is a great method for reducing the number of trials. Most people will lose the will to fight the charges after a few days in jail. Even the innocent ones will plead guilty if the offer is time served. If we turn them loose we'll have a corresponding increase in jury trials."

Not a problem Bork. The DA can just negotiate more generous plea bargains to persuade the accused to not go to trial.

BorkBorkBork said...

Without fail ADAs think time served is always generous offer.

If I was "King of the World" I would require all prosecutors and judges to spend 1 weekend per year in the county jail. I’d even be nice enough to give them CLE credit for it.

Anonymous said...


I agreee with you for the most part, however, county jails should not be holding facilities for those parole violators charged by blue warrant, most especialy those who are accused of an administrative violation, and when their are no local charges.

Also, counties must transport defendants arrested in other counties within ten days notification by the arresting county. TDCJ should be rquired to do the same once they have the pen packet in hand.

And don't give me the "their understaffed or shorthanded" excuse. :)

Keep up the good work.

NoMoreNoloContendere said...

Hey Scott,
I hope you consider putting your "Posts" in a book / memoir format oneday. I've followed GFB for a long time now and come to the conclusion that you sir, should be representing the public at large on a larger scale.

It's a headache (I'm sure) but it's about time to put someone with brains in the game. If we can get an "net" styled petition started today, what number of signatures would it take to get you to consider? You pick the seat and we'll stand with you 100%.

We need everything from a mayor to a governor. Until then, it'd be great if the "Petition" below could find it's way to the home page of GFB.


For God's sake and in the interest of true change. The names below and or attached represent those in favor of running Mr. Scott Henson for any elected position in the state of Texas, he so desires.

"Let it be known, status quo has got to go"

(1)- Thomas R. Griffith
PROJECT: Not Guilty
AKA: NoMoreNoloContendere

Noodle Noggin said...

I'm going to quibble with the logic of naming a "main cause" of overcrowding.

Suppose a county jail facility was designed to hold 10 inmates as follows:
6 awaiting trial
3 convicted serving county jail time
1 other
Now suppose the jail is overcrowded as follows:
6 awaiting trial
3 convicted serving county jail time
3 others

So although the pretrial population may be the largest, that may be according to plan and the overcrowding is actually caused by the "other" category.

PirateFriedman said...

Noodle Noggin,

It may be part of the plan, but if the plan can be changed then it is the main cause.

I haven't heard anything about the city of Houston having their hands tied. There is tons of room for policy changes, Check out the links Grits posted.

David N Austin, TX said...

Sounds like typical Texas!! Lock em up and throw the key away! As far as mentally ill defendants; the Texas Code of Criminal Procedures in article 17.032: magistrates (I guess that also includes judges?) shall release mentally ill identified defendants (provided they are not violent nor previously convicted of a violent offense) to treatment - out or inpatient treatment - while they are awaiting trial. But, I'm finding NOBODY uses this requirement; even lawyers act like they've never encountered it and very reluctant to pursue it! Why are misdemeanor defendants even being held in jail? Why are non-violent, non gang related, otherwise law abiding small time drug defendants being held in jail? RELEASE them on electronic monitoring or PR bond. That seems like common sense??? These sheriffs and municipal councils are sure costing the local taxpayers and the State literally billions of dollars - money we don't have. Seems Texas needs to re-examine it's justice and incarceration silliness!

David n Austin, TX

Anonymous said...

Howard County had a Pre-Trial Service Division, but decided to eliminate it due to the new detention facility being built. Inmates are released on PR bond, but do not show up for court or are not supervised. There is a need for this type of service and failure to provide it for the community will only result in the overcrowding issue again.