Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Causes of rising Smith County jail population are knowable, but officials like the system ineffable

The Smith County Jail population is growing, reported the Tyler Morning Telegraph, and the main reason is that the county is disproportionately incarcerating pretrial in routine cases. The DA told the paper,  “Over the years we see that that number trends upward sometimes and trends downward sometimes. There’s nothing specific that’s causing it to be higher right now.”

But we do know a few things about why the jail is so full. Reported the Telegraph:
While Smith County has 0.8% of the state’s population, the county jail had 1.2% of the state’s county jail population in 2019. The trend is consistent among most types of crime. 
In July, the county had 1.8% of people accused of misdemeanors awaiting trial; 3.6% of people convicted of misdemeanors; 2% of people accused of state jail felonies awaiting trial, 3.3% of state jail felons sentenced to state jail, and 2.3% of convicted felons.
With 0.8% of the state's population and 1.8% of misdemeanants jailed pretrial, plus 2% of state jail defendants awaiting trial, Smith County is disproportionately incarcerating lower level defendants pretrial compared to other jurisdictions. That's a self-inflicted wound. A whopping 65% of inmates in the Smith County jail as of last month were incarcerated pretrial. That's the result of decisions by local elected officials in the judiciary and the DA's office, not just some random event.

Similarly, they're using county jail to incarcerate people as punishment for misdemeanors much more often than the rest of the state. Again, they have 0.8% of the state's population and 3.6% of Texas defendants jailed after misdemeanor convictions. That's 450% above the statewide rate! The number is small-ish (55), but the fact remains for multiple categories of defendants, Smith County officials are using incarceration much more frequently than the rest of Texas.

Some of the same solutions Grits recently recommended for Denton County would certainly be in order. But the problem in Smith County is worse.

Local reporters in Tyler interested in digging deeper should try to replicate Texas Appleseed's recent analysis of jail bookings to identify cohorts of prisoners who don't need to be locked up for public safety purposes. It's simply not true that the cause of rising jail populations in an era of declining crime is unknowable. It's just that they're not telling you.


Anonymous said...

"With .08% of the state's population and 1.8% of misdemeanants jailed pretrial..."

Is it 0.08% or 0.8%?

Not a Journalist said...

"...Local reporters in Tyler interested in digging deeper?"

There is no such animal.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

0.8%. will correct.

Anonymous said...

Does Smith county still have Sheriff Smith.....of the infamous ATF raid on those poor people near Waco?

Anonymous said...

I think if you look at the policies of the judges (and the probation department), you'll find another reason for overcrowding. According to TDCJ-CJAD's Report to the Governor on the use of diversion funds, 75% of the probation revocations in Smith County are for technical violations. The state average is 49.7%. Some judges require probation officers to file a motion to revoke (which creates a warrant for the probationer's arrest) for minor violations, and the probationer sits in jail for months waiting for a hearing.

Yuri Dudiovich said...

When I was blogging about corruption in Smith County, I predicted after the jail expansion was completed that within ten years it would fill up and we would have local politicians whining and begging for another bond issue to keep building on. If the current trend continues, my prediction will come true.

So what's behind this expensive craziness? I'll tell you. The last few DA's and numerous local judges are heavily supported by prominent defense attorneys. After all, a draconian legal system is a cash cow for these people who would have trouble making a living as attorneys in other jurisdictions.

Our current DA is maybe a little more honest, but he is still insisting on prosecuting all marijuana cases no matter how minor, and has yet to do anything to reduce unnecessary pretrial incarceration. And, if he wants copious campaign funding in the next election cycle (You can bet your bottom dollar that the Old Guard is going to try to unseat him.) he is going to have to kowtow to these jackasses by at least making an appearance of maintaining the status-quo.

Just food for thought...