Friday, August 31, 2012

McLennan County jail privatization scheme a slow-motion train wreck

In McLennan County, reported the Waco Herald-Tribune ("County okays new DAs post, cuts health care funding," Aug. 15), subsidies to a speculative, extra jail built through a public-private partnership spurred county commissioners to slash indigent healthcare funding to finance their ill-conceived jail-building boondoggle. The article  attributes the costs to "jail overcrowding" but in truth the county has plenty of empty jail beds. However, the county will:
spend at least $3 million next year on outside inmate housing because of jail overcrowding.

The cost of inmate care is a major driver of the proposed tax increase, which would raise the county’s property tax rate by 3 cents, to 49.43 cents per $100 valuation. Commissioners are looking for savings to help offset the cost.

Commissioners Joe Mashek and Kelly Snell on Monday proposed reducing the county’s annual contribution to the Family Health Center, which serves 50,000 low-income patients.
Funding for the health clinic was cut to 1999 levels, the paper reported. "Dropping below that level could jeopardize the center’s grant funding because the federal government wants to see evidence of local support, said Dr. Roland Goertz, the center’s executive director."

Despite aiming to stave off large budget hikes, which are mostly attributed to rising jail costs, commissioners approved a new prosecutor position hoping to move misdemeanor cases more quickly through the process:
Commissioners agreed to add a prosecutor with a maximum salary of $72,000, despite their focus on cutting spending to reduce a proposed 6.5 percent tax rate increase for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

District Attorney Abel Reyna sold the position as an effort to streamline case flow.

The prosecutor would be assigned to the office’s intake division, which now has two attorneys and two support staff members who screen felony cases. Reyna asked to add a third attorney to the division to screen and file misdemeanor cases, a job now handled by the office’s misdemeanor trial teams.
To understand what's going on requires some backstory: Long-time readers may recall that the McLennan Commissioners Court partnered with private prison operator Community Education Centers to build a speculative jail which was supposed bring in profit, but when contract inmates never materialized they closed their downtown jail and shifted all the inmates to the contract facility, an arrangement which was extended earlier this summer. The result has been nearly $3 million per year in extra costs, an outcome which was predictable as the sunrise, and in fact predicted on Grits. (See also a local Waco-based blogger recently blasting the arrangement as "corporate welfare.")

Bottom line, the county is slashing the healthcare budget and other county services and still must raise taxes and hire an extra prosecutor to mitigate the commissioners court's flawed decision to partner in a speculative jail building scheme. Grits wrote a couple of years ago that "watching this McLennan County private jail project has been like observing a train wreck in slow motion ... the outcome was so obvious but the engineer just kept plowing forward. " The "engineer," though, is exiting the train. The County Judge and Sheriff who got them into this mess are both retiring this year, just as the chickens are coming home to roost on this financial and managerial debacle. Convenient, that.

Thomas Paine said that time makes more converts than reason, and this episode provides a great example of that truth. It never made sense to build a third jail unit the county didn't need and couldn't afford. That's clear to everyone, now, but the realization came too late to do county taxpayers any good.


Anonymous said...

Some of these buffoons should be indicted for their participation in this scheme. Government officials should not be schmoozed by private corporations and then give them unfair bidding advantage over other potential bidders. They should be put in the jail they built. That would be extremely appropriate in this situation.

John C. Key MD said...

This sort of antics has gone on since, well, probably since there was any governments at all, including tribal chieftains.

Private contractors are just a small blip on the screen of rampant corruption, mismanagement, and dishonesty in law enforcement and criminal justice.

I think the public would reject it and "turn the bastards out" if the public only knew. I don't know how you get the word out.

Anonymous said...

Force M - the problem is the word is out thanks to GFB and some other well done information outlets. Facebook zombies are well disconnected and the American way is to dissociate from everything until it directly affects them, especially if it smells bad or looks a little dirty. I used to say the USA is just as corrupt if not more so than Mexico, however they are more sly about it this side of the Rio Grande. Not so anymore, the corruption here is brazen, conducted with impunity, with no fear of reprisal. Austin (State Bar, SCJC, AG...) is no factor, never steps in except to grind up democrats... A huge percentage of Repubs run unopposed, but hey I gotta get back to my facebook...

DeathBreath said...

We can thank the GOPigs for this one. Privitization is a way to avoid raising taxes. Does it work? Yes, it does.

It works for the dirty pigs who line up at the trough for feeding. Each & every time private enterprise has taken over a state-funded facility, it has failed, miserably.

Yet, GOPigs continue this behavior since they don't seem to profit from experience. Do they care? No, they don't.

As long as taxes are not raised, they get re-elected or well-compensated in their retirement from corporate whores.

I have a novel idea. Let's privitize the Texas legislature.

What is wrong with me? What was I thinking? The Texas legislature is already privitized by corporate interests.