We're going to be having this conversation for awhile, I expect.
As he attempts to secure a new jail for Harris County, Sheriff Adrian Garcia has hired nearly 90 more guards but still faces skepticism from commissioners about whether a new facility is the only solution to chronic overcrowding and failed inspections.
Garcia argued earlier this month for the construction of a new jail, after the downtown lockups failed a fourth state inspection in six years because of broken toilets and intercoms. He said a new facility would alleviate persistent problems with maintenance and overcrowding at the facilities that house more than 10,000 people.
County and state officials have watched previous plans for a new jail fizzle because of a lack of voter support or the Sheriff's Office's guard shortage. They repeatedly have said other methods must be used to address overcrowding, including modification of bonding and pretrial diversion policies. Recent numbers show that half of the jail's population is made up of people awaiting trial.
"A new jail would have to be a last resort," Commissioner El Franco Lee said last week.
The discussion could culminate next month when Commissioner's Court expects to receive a report from Justice Management Institute, which is performing a "top-to-bottom" review of the local criminal justice system. The court also is scheduled to hold its annual meeting to discuss its capital improvements plan.
"Why would we make any decisions until we have all the information?" asked Commissioner Sylvia Garcia. "The last thing we want to do is to put (a new jail) back on the ballot and have it fail again."
Since January, [Sheriff Garcia] has hired 87 civilian jailers and cut openings in patrol, through new hires and transfers within the department, from about 70 to 22, according to Lt. John Legg, a spokesman for the department.
"Summer is a peak recruiting period," Legg said. "We expect June and July to be big months for hiring."