Monday, January 14, 2013

Tuff on crime getting tough on Waco taxpayers

In McLennan County, judges and county officials spoke last week with unusual candor about the economic costs of District Attorney Abel Reyna's "tuff-on-crime" approach to plea bargaining, which the Waco Tribune Herald reported ("Judges overhaul crowded dockets due to crowded jails," Jan. 13) has resulted in "unnecessary delays and ease jail overcrowding." The county's two criminal district judges have taken measures to speed up the plea bargaining process. They're concerned with the number of defendants "riding the docket," or refusing to accept a quick plea bargain, in part because the new District Attorney Abel Reyna engages in overcharging. “As a matter of policy, prosecutors need to be making their best offer first,” [Judge Matt] Johnson said. “Because if they make their worst offer first, people are going to ride the docket.” A defense attorney quoted in the story said, “When Mr. Reyna took office, the offers that had historically been at one level are now up three to four times on every type of case.” The judges, though, not to mention county commissioners who must pay for the jail costs, want the DA to negotiate more cases more quickly, and to consider the costs of being "tough.". Reported the Trib:
The changes come a week after McLennan County commissioners discussed budget woes fueled in recent years by a growing jail population that hovered this past week around 1,300 inmates.

Based on current trends, the county may spend $5 million this year to house overflow inmates from the McLennan County Jail, which is $2 million more than budgeted. That could deplete county contingency funds or dictate cuts in other areas, county officials warned.

County Judge Scott Felton told commissioners if citizens elected District Attorney Reyna and new Sheriff Parnell McNamara because they embraced their tough-on-crime platforms, they must be willing to pay for the results, including possible tax increases to pay for jail operations.
A staff editorial accompanying the story opened describing how:
McLennan County Judge Scott Felton during a county commissioners meeting laid bare the escalating, out-of-control jail costs draining county coffers. The numbers presented were shocking: One of every four dollars is now being spent to house and care for inmates — up from $900,000 in fiscal year 2009 and destined to hit as much as $5.5 million this fiscal year.

Felton’s transparency in a court long known as less than forthcoming was not only appreciated but necessary. The commissioners court before Felton’s arrival seldom went into such depth in open session about fiscal challenges facing it and the public. Felton’s approach, however, just might get us all working on the same page to solve this latest crisis impacting our jail system.

“This is not a fiscal cliff but it sure is a rough hill we are going on right now,” Felton said. “One of the biggest elephants in the room is that jail population and it has the biggest affect on our fund balance.”

Commissioner Ben Perry compared inmate statistics from Bell and Brazos counties, which average about 600 per day. McLennan County, however, houses between 1,100 and 1,300 per day — and pays a hefty price to do so. Brazos County had 12,000 inmates in 2012; Bell County, 19,088. McLennan County last year cared for an astonishing 36,000 inmates.
The paper opined that, "at least part of the problem results from officials who, acting on the message voters sent them, are tough on crime. Taxpayers must understand that if we want criminals aggressively prosecuted and locked up, there’s a very real price to pay."

This has been going on for a while. Last year the county raised taxes and reduced spending on health care to pay for for additional jail and prosecution costs, and it appears likely they'll need another tax hike in the fall if current prosecution trends continue.


Anonymous said...

The new chief deputy at McClennan County SO is a retired Texas Ranger. Judging by his comments in the article, he has a lot of learning to do in regard to jail administration.

Being a Texas Ranger does not qualify you to run a sheriff's office.

Unknown said...

There's a lot of "docket-riding" (I love that term, by the way)in the Bexar County misdemeanor courts because of the lack of a pretrial diversion program and the DA's hard line on DWIs. No telling how much it costs (and I mean literally, I don't know of anyone who's tried to measure it) but the DA ultimately ends up getting nothing when the cases are dismissed a few years later, when she could've gotten at least half a loaf. Being tough on crime indeed has its costs. Thanks for highlighting it.

Anonymous said...

Someone needs to get the records and do a study of the real reasons of the overcrowding, which has absolutely nothing to do with the crime rate.

I have been personally involved on multiple occasions and the McLennan County justice system is a total fiasco. Despite the electronic advancements available, none of these entities are able to communicate with one another.

The Courts drag their feet on appointing attorneys for weeks and months, the DA's office can't get the dismissal paperwork on the often over-charged cases to the jail for release and the Probation Department takes five days to do the paperwork for release after a Court disposition.

OMG, I do believe these are not just daily fiscal issues, but also CIVIL RIGHTS issues and another potential financial problem for poor McLennan County!

Thomas R. Griffith said...

Hey Grits, at some point the camel's back will break and the goofballs that live, vote & pay taxes in McLennan county will have gotten what they paid for. Just watch and see, folks will be moving out asap.

I for one hope and pray that no one plea bargains and it causes them to have to file for bankruptcy and becomes another Baptist ghost town. McWhat? Thanks.

Thomas R. Griffith said...

oh, the so-called "docket-riding" was invented in Harris County, Tx.

A human obtains a lawyer / attorney that does absolutely no pre-trial investigation, files little or no pre-trial motions of any quality 30 days prior to any trial date. Then has the balls to file numerous "Ready for Trial" notices and then spends every chance he / she can get on trying to convince the client to take the plea. The lie of the century is that - Guilty or Not, you are going prison just for being arrested while on probation on a new unrelated charge, followed by - it was revoked the minute you got arrested.

Even more insulting is the fact that the law allows for the unqualified to be a criminal defense attorney for a day. Combined, you get jail over crowding, a 90 percent and up plea bargain rate and court dockets jamepacked with the same names ever 30 days. Thanks goofy taxpayers.