June 05, 2008
No Galveston jail for Harris County

The Galveston option for housing excess inmates is off the table.

Harris County officials effectively have ruled out the idea of leasing a vacant jail in Galveston to reduce the number of inmates sent to Louisiana, saying it would be too hard to staff the facility and bring it up to current jail standards.

Instead, the Commissioners Court on Tuesday approved one-year contracts with three Louisiana parishes to house up to 1,000 inmates at a cost of up to $15 million. The county already pays a private facility in northeast Louisiana to hold up to 730 prisoners.

County Judge Ed Emmett floated the idea of leasing the Galveston jail last month when the Sheriff's Office first asked for permission to send more inmates out of state. He said he worried about how hard it was for families and attorneys to visit prisoners hundreds of miles away from Harris County.

On Tuesday, however, Emmett said the idea was well-nigh dead.

"We were hopeful that, maybe, the Commission on Jail Standards would say it was a wonderful place, but I have a feeling that that's not really the case," he said after the Commissioners Court meeting.

No surprise there. I figured the need to provide jailers would be a stumbling block.

County leaders will discuss options for permanently easing jail overcrowding at a meeting on capital improvement projects later this month and at its mid-year budget review in September, Budget Officer Dick Raycraft said.

There's been plenty of discussion about this already, so there's no excuse for Commissioners Court to not be cognizant of their options. (If they need a refresher anyway, Grits is happy to provide one.) It's just a matter of how committed they will be to actually solving this problem. Will they take the tried-and-true "form a committee and study it in hopes everyone eventually forgets about it" approach, or will they take real action? I make the former a slight favorite, but I'll be happy to be wrong about that.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on June 05, 2008 to Crime and Punishment