Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pretrial detention, not 'growth,' driving overincarceration at Nueces County Jail

Here's another Texas jail building proposal - this time out of Nueces County (Corpus Christi) - in which officials are claiming population growth is driving overincarceration. Reported KRIS-TV:
This is a critical time for the Nueces County Jail because it's now at 93% capacity.

"The jail has been overcrowded a number of years. When I say overcrowded we have almost reached our capacity," said Nueces County Sheriff Jim Kaelin.

The jail can hold 1,068 inmates. It's limited by law not to exceed 90-percent capacity in case more space is needed for problem inmates or if maintenance issue surface.

"We are 20 years behind the growth of the city and that is a long time for everything else to grow around you and for your jail not to grow," said Kaelin.
Once again, I've no doubt the jail is overcrowded, but let us not suffer the absurd declaration that it's overcrowded because "We are 20 years behind the growth of the city." Instead, let's review the facts.

In July of 1995, the Nueces County jail population stood at 892, of which 222 (25 percent) were being detained pretrial. In July 2014, the total population stood at 1,042, with 645 (62 percent) of those being detained pretrial. (See historical reports since 1992 here.) By comparison, the total 1995 population in Nueces County was 310,435, and 352,107 in 2013, or a 13.4 percent increase, while the jail population grew at a slightly greater rate - 16.8 percent.

Looking more closely, though, the 1995 jail population figure is artificially inflated because the jail was full back then of convicted offenders awaiting transfer to TDCJ, an issue that's been largely resolved in the 21st century since the state-prison system tripled in size. There were 334 convicted felons in Nueces awaiting transfer to prison on July 1, 1995, and only 132 in July 2014. Adjusted to account for those, the remaining jail population grew more than 50 percent.

Virtually all of the difference in the Nueces County jail population is accounted for by increased pretrial detention, which as we've discussed vis a vis Kerr County is a policy decision by judges and prosecutors, not a function of "growth." And keep in mind this is a period when crime rates dramatically declined.

Finally, the Sheriff speculated that extra jail space "could be paid for in part by money that comes from housing federal inmates." Any fiction that the jail will pay for itself in the current, over-saturated Texas incarceration market must be snuffed: Ask voters in Lubbock or Waco how that story turns out!

Perhaps, when it's debated publicly, Nueces County voters will support the policy decision to incarcerate so many more people pretrial, including hundreds of misdemeanor defendants. Or maybe they'll think scarce jail resources should be deployed more frugally. But portraying the need as stemming from simple population growth misrepresents the demand for more beds, which results from choices by elected officials, not some cosmic inevitability because there are sooo many more criminals these days.


He's Innocent said...

Grits, please keep beating this horse until it is dead!

I've come to think that if the local level elected officials begin to see the the folly of pre-trial over-incarceration for all, that there is perhaps better odds of this argument going up the food chain to perhaps true reform on mass incarceration in Texas.

Oh the thought of that being a possibility makes my head spin!

Anonymous said...

This post points up the lack of common sense in the Texas criminal justice system. When many states are reducing the overall county jail population, Texas seems bent on increasing it. IMHO, it seems that the counties are committed to supplying TDCJ a steady flow of prisoners to keep the state prisons full, and people employed. One way to do this is to keep people locked up pretrial in the hopes of them accepting an outlandish plea deal because they can't afford to post bond, or hire a competent attorney.

It's time the great state of Texas rethought their overall attitude towards incarceration of those with minor offenses. Instead of throwing them in jail to languish for who knows how long, look at getting the cases adjudicated more quickly instead of letting prosecutors and judges drag their feet on weak cases hoping for a plea deal.

Anonymous said...

Unknown said...

At the Nueces County Jail Annex, prisoners were served bolonga sandwiches for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for three weeks "because they were remodeling the kitchen".

texasjailbird said...

On the front page of
Nueces County Jail: Facts vs. Lies

When Sheriff Kaelin talks about his overcrowded jail, he likes to mention all the growth in Corpus and all the criminals in Corpus. A recent TV report dutifully quotes him without analyzing his “facts,” but lucky for us, Grits for Breakfast does. Blogger Scott Henson lays it out in plain Enlish: “Virtually all of the difference in the Nueces County jail population is accounted for by increased pretrial detention, which …. is a policy decision by judges and prosecutors, not a function of “growth.” And keep in mind this is a period when crime rates dramatically declined.” So this is a jail where 62% of the people are awaiting disposition of their cases—pretrial—and THAT is the big fact behind your overcrowding. You don’t need more room in the jail, Sheriff, you need judges and a DA who think through the consequences of their decisions.