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First steps in dealing with jail overcrowding

They’re baby steps, but they’re in the right direction.

The first of 20 county inmates to get their sentences reduced by two-thirds for completing job training will get out of jail Monday.

The experiment marks Sheriff Adrian Garcia’s first tentative step away from the long-standing practice of two days’ credit for each day served in favor of a 3-for-1 schedule in select cases.

“We’re not just opening the floodgates,” Garcia said Tuesday. “We are making sure we’re trying to use some science to this.”


The small scale reflects Garcia’s caution in considering quicker release times. Last December, Precinct 1 Commissioner El Franco Lee proposed 3-for-1 for inmates for working in county parks and cleaning up bayous. Garcia called for a go-slow approach, and Commissioners Court referred the proposal to a study group.

Because the maximum Harris County Jail sentence is a year, moving from 2-to-1 to 3-to-1 could reduce an inmate’s time from six to four months.

I thought this was a good idea when I first heard about it, and I still think it’s a good idea. It’s an approach we should have been taking all along. These guys are all going to be getting out soon no matter what we do. Giving them some tools to help keep them from coming back, and getting them out more quickly in the process, is a win all around. I hope this program is as successful as it deserves to be and gets expanded soon. And when it does, we can move on to the next logical step, which is putting fewer people into the jail in the first place.

Being caught with a bag of marijuana in Bexar County could no longer mean an automatic trip to jail.

Stealing a few beers or driving without a valid license also wouldn’t necessarily get you arrested.

Those are among non-violent misdemeanor offenses that the Bexar County sheriff wants to start ticketing people for, instead of arresting and taking them to jail. It’s a proposal aimed at relieving occasional overcrowding issues at the Bexar County Jail and freeing up more time for deputies patrolling the streets.

Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz said the proposal isn’t anything new. The state Legislature unanimously passed a law in 2007 that gave law enforcement the discretion to issue tickets for certain minor offenses.

Ortiz said hopes to adopt the law now that new technology is available to the Sheriff’s Office. Earlier this month, the agency purchased 15 mobile identification units to test, he said. The units allow deputies to confirm identities by scanning thumbprints and matching them to jail records. If the devices work properly, the sheriff said he would begin enforcing the law.

Good luck with that, Sheriff. Both the SAPD Chief and the Bexar County DA are resistant to this idea – does anyone know where Chief McClelland stands on it? – and I suspect the first time someone who gets cited and released that would have been arrested doing it the old way goes out and commits some other crime there will be hell to pay. But this is a perfectly sensible way to deal with scarce resources, and over time it will be accepted as such. And then Harris County can follow suit.

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