Friday, September 06, 2013

The free jail myth: County pols must stop pretending incarceration pays for itself

When will they ever learn? Despite so many jail-for-profit schemes abysmally failing across the state, resulting in fat tax increases and countless management headaches, there are still county officials out there pretending that new jail construction will pay for themselves. Reported KIII-TV in Corpus Christi (Sept. 4)
[Nueces County] Sheriff [Jim] Kaelin has been pushing for jail expansion for some time with little success. Now, he's found at least one ally among county commissioners who says there is a way to do it without costing taxpayers money.

"We have quite a bit of space out there where we can expand dormitory type rooms for maintaining prisoners that are low-risk caliber, and that would free up space here at our main jail and allow us to bring in more federal prisoners," County Commissioner Mike Pusley said.

Those federal prisoners are key in the proposed plan. Pusley said the $60 per day federal inmates could pick up most of the tab for expansion.
Any time a politician says they can build a new jail "without costing taxpayers money," you can be sure of two things: That politician is feeding you a line of bull and taxpayers will be left holding the bag in the end.

As is typically the case, the suggestion for jail expansion ignores the underlying cause of jail overcrowding - decisions by local judges to require excessive pretrial detention. As of Aug 1, according to the Commission on Jail Standards, about 62% of Nueces County inmates have been convicted of no crime but are being held in jail pending trial because they couldn't make bail. Eighteen percent of county inmates were folks being held pretrial on misdemeanor charges. It would be far more fiscally responsible to eschew new jail building and instead fund programming to reduce pretrial detention for low-risk defendants. That's not as simplistic a fix, but it's a much smarter one that keeps the focus on public safety without needlessly boosting local property taxes.


Anonymous said...

So who exactly are the 62% who can't make bail? Are they in jail on felony or misdemeanor charges? Are they U.S. citizens? Are the bail amounts unreasonable? Could they make bail at any level? And in connection with the misdemeanor pretrial detainees, what charges are they being held for? Do these "low risk" offenders include those incarcerated on Class A Family Violence Assaults?

I don't disagree that attempting to expand jails with rental bed income is a very risky proposition at best. At the same time, without more data reported, I think you've made a very broad and likely over-generalization to claim that the number of pretrial detainees is the result of an oppressive, "lock 'em up" mentality on the part of the judges who set bond. Just my opinion...

Anonymous said...

Reminds me of a Spanish quote I heard once:
El Perro que come caca, si no la come la huele.
(The dog that eats turd, smells it if he doesn't eat it.) Relating to how hard it is to get rid of a bad habit.
Counties, and our beloved State of Texas have a nasty habit of saying we need to reduce prison/jail costs. But then turn around and spend to expand incarceration be it private or government based.
Like the dog... its a bad habit that needs to be broken.

Alex S. said...

I've personally had misdemeanor cases where the client was detained for over 60-90 days in Nueces County on a new charge. The problem I discovered was the courts don't have a process to deal with this--mainly because it takes the prosecutor so dang long to formally file the case.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

8:50 writes: "you've made a very broad and likely over-generalization to claim that the number of pretrial detainees is the result of an oppressive, 'lock 'em up' mentality on the part of the judges who set bond"

Except you're the only one who use the phrase "oppressive," talked about a "lock em up mentality," etc.. I just pointed to the data showing the source of overcrowding: Pretrial detention. The rest you're reading into it.

Anonymous said...

@08:50--He answered your first question in your post: 18% of the population are inmates held Pretrial on mosdemeanor offenses. This would be included with the overall Pretrial population of 62%, meaning that the breakdown goes like this:
38% Post-conviction/Other (serving county time or waiting to be transferred elsewhere);
44% Felony Pretrial;
18% Misdemeanor Pretrial.
That doesn't tell us anything about what portion of the 44% would be held pending trial in ANY county (there will always be some given the severity of the offense), but the pattern is almost every other county leaves me confident that a huge chunk of the felony Pretrial detainees are being held on simple possession charges, where a "reasonable" bond could be paid if they weren't too poor to pay it.
The fact is the paying a bondsman 10% does nothing to assure attendance at court; it merely serves to feed the bondsmen (who contribute heavily to judicial campaigns). The vast majority of defendants don't need to be held in jail pending trial. In practice they're held because they're too poor to post bond, not because they're dangerous.


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