July 24, 2005
County jail update

Here's a good followup story to the earlier piece which described overcrowded conditions in the Harris County jails and the dangers to guards and inmates that have resulted from them. Couple of items worth noting: First, despite the fact that the powers that be have known about this crisis since 2003, they've done exactly nothing about it.

"We've been watching it and looking at it," Budget Officer Dick Raycraft said.

Indeed, rather than help deal with the problem by putting more deputies to work in the jail, county officials in recent years have been diverting officers to patrol duty, Raycraft said.

"It was a collaborative decision by the sheriff and the Commissioners Court," he said.


[Chief Deputy Mike] Smith said the Sheriff's Office is working on ways to ease the crowding. He said 450 inmates who require less supervision were moved Saturday to lower-level security housing adjacent to the two main jails. That shift will still leave 1,200 to 1,400 inmates sleeping on the floor, Smith said.


According to Raycraft, Harris County pays $12,000 a year to Charles M. Friel, a professor at Sam Houston State's College of Criminal Justice, to forecast trends in law enforcement each quarter. In a report presented to Commissioners Court in September 2003, Friel predicted that the county jail population "could rise to 8,600 by the end of July 2004, a 12-month increase of 15 percent."

Additionally, while noting that a portion of the backlog consists of prison-ready inmates and parole violators, the report by Friel also pointed to the policies of Harris County's criminal justice system as a large reason for the increase in inmates.

Specifically, he cited the growing numbers of defendants unable to post bail while awaiting trial, as well as nonviolent offenders given jail time instead of alternative sentencing.

In subsequent reports, Friel has continued to warn the county about the expanding jail population.


After commissioners received Friel's report in 2003, Raycraft said the county would reconvene its Criminal Justice Committee. Made up of representatives from Commissioners Court and each division of the county criminal justice system, the committee was created in response to a jail-crowding lawsuit that kept the county jail under a federal judge's control for 23 years, ending in 1995.

However, almost two years after Friel's report, the committee has yet to meet. Raycraft said a meeting is planned for Friday.

Clearly, the Commissioners' Court has better things on its agenda, like building an unstoppable army of toll roads.

The other item of interest is the cost to fix this.

As for the cost of resolving the problem, Raycraft estimated that if, for example, 150 new guards are needed, it would cost about $7 million.

Smith said Friday that the latest projections he has seen put the number of new jailers needed at almost 300.

Remember, Harris County has $169 million cash reserves this fiscal year, meaning it could fund those 300 extra jailers for over a decade without any new income.

This has the feel to me of a story that's still in the early stages. I'm sure there'll be more in the coming weeks.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 24, 2005 to Crime and Punishment | TrackBack

I can't believe that ridiculous Chronicle story, in which the reporter quotes two recently-released inmates of the county jail on conditions in the county jail! Presumably the reporter kept a straight face while writing this story.

The Chron is on a jihad to reduce sentencing as well as the terms of probation and parole for an entire category of felony crimes in Texas, including sentencing, probation and parole for some very violent crimes.

Which is another way of saying that, based on long experience with the Houston Chronicle, nothing the Chronicle writes about the subject of overcrowding in the county jail can be trusted on its own merits.

Posted by: ttyler5 on July 24, 2005 9:40 PM

Settle down ttyler5: the Chronic just wants to make sure that County accomodations are suitable for their reporters.

Posted by: Charles Hixon on July 24, 2005 11:46 PM

:^D :^D :^D :^D :^D :^D :^D

Posted by: ttyler5 on July 26, 2005 6:34 PM

Are you guys blind? The f..... county is doing a hitler style jail em first, ask questions later. God help harris county

Posted by: notrealhappy on July 20, 2006 12:39 AM

The way that Harris Co. treats inmates is borderline inhumane. There are inmates literally sleeping next to urine soaked floors...its disgusting and seems like something one would experience in a third world country.

Posted by: Jose on November 20, 2006 11:35 AM