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.
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.
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