City or county?

Like Nancy Sims, I was at the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce candidate forum yesterday morning. And like Nancy, I thought this bit was one of the more interesting parts of the debate.

Several questions focused on city finances and how each candidate would face financial challenges. Gene Locke stated that he would close the city jail and contract with Harris County to process Houston prisoners. Annise Parker also indicated that she supported closing the jail. Peter Brown indicated that he believes the city jail should remain open.

If you are new to the city jail debate, it is important to note that most people arrested by HPD may be processed at the city jail and then transferred to the county. Anything more than a Class C Misdemeanor offense goes straight to the county. The topic has been discussed for years.

It was interesting to see some disagreement among this group, even if it was just over the city jail.

Locke’s argument, seconded by Parker, was that it would cost less to contract this job to the county. Brown disputed the claim there would be any savings in this, and also pointed out that the county jail has its share of problems, while Parker expressed her confidence in the new Sheriff to fix things.

On point one, it should be pretty simple to see who’s right. Put it out for a bid, and see what the county says it’d cost the city for this service. Either it’s a net savings or it’s not.

On point two, while Brown is correct to note that the Harris County jails are under federal review and have been for several years now, the fact is that Sheriff Garcia is working to fix those problems, and by the time a new Mayor is sworn in we ought to have a good picture of how much progress he’s made on that front. I think it’s sensible to not count on being able to do this in the near term, but going forward the problems of the jail not meeting state and federal standards should be reduced and eventually eliminated.

Of course a point that no one brought up is that the Harris County jail may not have the capacity to handle the city’s inmates. Sheriff Garcia has a plan to address the overcrowding issue, but I don’t see that as being a short term fix, at least not without a firm commitment from the judiciary and the District Attorney to play their part. If and when the county gets a handle on that, then this plan will be more feasible.

On a related note, the question about the city’s participation in the 287(g) program came up as well. All four of the candidates agreed that having HPD ask people for their immigration status was a bad idea and a misuse of resources. All four also agreed that checking immigration status on people who were in custody was sensible, and that violent criminals who are undocumented should be subject to deportation. Nobody addressed the question of whether those who are convicted of misdemeanors should be subject to it as well, which is a source of concern among Latino activists. Stace said at the Latino Summit forum on Saturday that the candidates needed to realize this and come up with a new line on 287(g), but it appears that hasn’t happened as yet.

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  1. Pingback: Parker’s crimefighting plan – Off the Kuff

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