Monday, December 14, 2009

US Department of Agriculture needs to stay out of jail building business

I make an effort on this blog to track as comprehensively as possible all the various sources of expansion in incarceration capacity in Texas, from halfway houses and treatment centers to county jails, state prisons, federal lockups, immigration detention centers and privately run facilities. But the Texas Tribune's Julian Aguilar points to a source of incarceration funds being sought in South Texas that I'd never considered before: The US Department of Agriculture.

Usually voters must approve debt for new jails, but a South Texas political family wants the federal Ag Department to loan money for jail building without voter approval, reports the Tribune ("USDA Approved: Jail Construction," Dec. 14):

Some Texas sheriffs are looking to an unlikely source to get them out of the hole as private prisons win away federal contracts for inmates and put the financial squeeze on county jails.

Federal prisoners translate to dollars to local detention facilities — mainly county jails — which are reimbursed at a rate that can exceed $50 a day for each federal inmate they house. But competition from private prisons in Texas continues to shrink that potential pool of inmates for smaller, poorer counties, leading some local governments to ask help from an agency better known for its fever tick riders than building jails.

The Department of Agriculture is currently considering whether and how it will grant or loan Webb County about $5 million, said Sheriff Martin Cuellar, which will be used to build a new county-owned jail.

“We build another jail elsewhere and house the regular state prisoners [there],” said Cuellar. “We could also have the current jail filled with federal prisoners and that could be something very profitable to the county.”

County governments and the U.S. Marshals Service negotiate federal-prisoner contracts, some of which used to be a steady secondary source of revenue for Webb.
Somebody needs to step in and provide some adult supervision here: The US Department of Agriculture has absolutely no business loaning money to add onto county jail capacity. Pork is pork, but that's an absurd misuse of Ag funds; certainly there's little economic stimulus going on there, and it ignores the voters' usual role in approving county debt.

I've railed repeatedly against the short-sighted tactic of counties banking on revenue from federal immigration detainees to generate profit from incarceration. In Cameron County a similar arrangement has forced officials to ship local, pretrial detainees to other counties, while in Gregg County for a while they actually stopped making misdemeanor arrests after Hurricane Rita because their jail was full of contract detainees. It turns out the Webb County scheme makes no more sense just because a Congressman's brother might be able to swing federal Ag pork to finance it:

Local officials nonetheless hailed the facility as a job creator, and a source of revenue through utility contracts with Webb County. But Cuellar says the county is losing $500,000 annually because inmates are going to GEO instead of the county lockup.

Cuellar said it's helpful knowing people at the federal level, in this case, his older brother, U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, who the sheriff said has helped guide the department in the right direction.

“Through what they call the Rural Communities Facilities Program there is a way that you can use funding to build community centers, you can build city halls or you can even build jails,” said Rep. Cuellar, a member of the House Agriculture Committee.

So naturally, given those options, Congressman Cuellar and his Sheriff-brother want to expand on a bad idea and add more beds to the revenue-losing jail instead of build a new city hall or a community center. What gives with that? Does anyone believe that would be the top priority for funding if the Congressman's brother weren't the Sheriff? This one doesn't pass the smell test.

Thanks to the Tribune and Aguilar, btw, for alerting me to the possibility of federal Ag loans for rural county jails. Knowing that, perhaps going forward it'll be necessary to monitor the EPA, Medicare, transportation grants, and other seemingly unrelated federal programs to make sure jail builders aren't making an end run around local voters to incur indebtedness and expand jail capacity.


doran said...

This is a whole lot more like turkey bacon than it is just plain old pork.

sunray's wench said...

“We build another jail elsewhere and house the regular state prisoners [there],” said Cuellar. “We could also have the current jail filled with federal prisoners and that could be something very profitable to the county.”

Oh Gods. Hasn't anyone mentioned that the idea is to DEcrease incarceration, not INcrease it? Or is South Texas a particularly bad and lawless place to live?

doran said...


TDCJ EX said...

Sunray . Prisons, jails and other "detention centers", some are used to hold undocumented immigrants , are often used to build the economy of places that otherwise would be rural areas.

One example Gatesville once a rural ranching and agricultural town . It also had a "state school for boys " but nothing like the massive TDCJ prison complex . Use Google Earth or Maps to see the units keep in mind that the land TDCJ owns extends beyond the buildings .

Now it's biggest employer is TDCJ. Then Low paying service sector jobs to accommodate the employees of TDCJs 7 units Other low end service sector business to accommodate visitors with the exception of Death Row that is just on weekends. Female Units have far less visitors than male units

What many do not know is that the 8426 prisoners are counted as residents of Gatesville and Coryell county . Of that 8426 , 5526 are women . That means of the 15,252 residents of Gatesville 56 % are prisoners.

They might “live" there but few are truly residents in any sense of the word of Gatesville or Coryell County . Add in the 1,342 There is also a moral issue about 5526 women being locked up in one massive prison complex . It is a growing problem that deserves it's own discussion, one badly needed . ( Population numbers are from TDCJ)

The federal and state governments give out all kinds of financial assistance ,grants and other forms of taxpayer funded help to poor and low income communities for a myriad of things when used properly in truly low income areas can help . Things like roads , drinking and waste water treatment plants more cops to police the 8,426 prisoners and 2386 guards and other employees as in the majority of the town ! . There is even a "regional airport " in Gatesville despite Waco having one . Schools get extra federal money because of the children of prisoners who often live at or below poverty are counted as needing help in Coryell county not where they actually live .

Building prison complexes in areas that would other wise be rural areas with a agriculture or natural resource extraction IE logging /timber , mining, oil fields, fishing , wind ,solar energy .Some would just be open space or some sort of federally or state owned lands Just creates a population dependent on prison , lots of laws to make sure there are lots of prisoners This makes for a near permanent political base for the “tuff on crime “ politicians who then legislate more behavior into felonies and other legislation that is not in the interest of approximately 90 % of citizens. See John Carter of TX 31st district in keeping with Gatesville and to be fair Marlins two units. In fact The 31 st district would be very rural with out lots of federal an spending and TDCJ . They all but depend on it and state and federal handouts they get .

Ironically most of those who live there self identify as ”conservative” .Who claim government should not be creating jobs for guards , bosses in keeping to TX who other wise would be burger flipping if that . Is it the duty of taxpayers to give should be burger flippers better paying jobs and benefits when they would deny health care to the needy and depend on poverty and human suffering created in a big part by the drug war, heartless legislation for a living ? They to can do what every one else does get a education move to where there are good jobs . We could save billions in tax dollars by reducing our prison population and getting rid of prison towns. Add all the Gatesvilles across the US up and you're talking hundreds of billions

It is home to notorious persecutor John Bradly the win at all cost constitution be damned . Is this why he needs so many convictions ? He needs to have lots of prisoners to earn a living . All of this raises other issues legal and moral .