August 03, 2008
New jail bond to miss the November election

Fine by me.

Voters probably will not see a request to issue bonds for a new downtown jail on the November ballot, as Commissioners Court members voice reluctance over moving so quickly on a project the public already has rejected once.

Although a bond proposal was discussed at last week's meeting and is on the agenda for Tuesday's session, County Judge Ed Emmett and two commissioners said Friday they are not ready to bring a new measure to the electorate. Voters rejected the original $245 million plan last November by a 51-49 margin.

Emmett and Commissioners Sylvia Garcia and Steve Radack each had their own reasons for wanting to delay a vote, from desiring further studies of the overcrowding issues at the jail to complaints over the city of Houston's contributions to the joint project.

But the reality is the county would have a difficult time getting the bond approved in an election where black and Hispanic voters are expected to head to the polls in droves amid intense scrutiny of the local criminal justice system, political analysts said.

Opposition from those groups was one major reason the proposal failed in 2007, they said.

"At this point, it is difficult to imagine how the county would sell the bond to the voters," said Franklin Jones, a Texas Southern University political scientist.

Given that the county hasn't done a thing to address the root cause of jail overcrowding, I don't see how they could sell this thing, either. Of course, if they do address the cause of the problem, they may find that the problem goes away without the need for more jail space. But if that's not the case, if a facility like this is still needed even with saner and more fiscally responsible arrest, bail, probation, and parole policies in place, then at least the sales job won't need to be a snow job.

Garcia said postponing a vote until the May election could give the county time to address some of the community's concerns about law enforcement, the courts and the jail. She has been advocating a top-to-bottom review of the criminal justice system and said embarking on one would show the public their complaints are being heard, possibly improving the chances they would sign off on a new jail.

Rice University political scientist Bob Stein said avoiding the November election is a smart move but will not ensure victory.

"I think it's going to be almost impossible in November and very difficult in May," he said. "They need to get their act together and have a very united bipartisan front, and that's going to be hard."

I think it would depend to some extent on whether or not there are any city of Houston propositions up for a vote at that time as well. For instance, if the local anti-immigrant wackos finally succeed in getting one of their referenda on the ballot, it could certainly have an effect. Even without that, while I'm not as confident as Professor Stein, I think even a May election would be at best a tossup for a jail bond. Regardless of that, I hope the review Commissioner Garcia has in mind is well underway by then. That might finally be a step in the right direction for the jails.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on August 03, 2008 to Crime and Punishment

If Adrian Garcia wins in the fall for Sheriff there'll be a Houston election in May to secure a successor for his seat on Houston City Council.

Posted by: Burt Levine on August 3, 2008 10:41 AM
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