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More on the proposed booking center

On the Houston Politics blog, Chris Moran follows up on his reporting about the new “booking center” proposal with information about how it may play out in Commissioners Court.

The city of Houston has designated $31 million to help fund the county’s booking center, where Houston police would bring all of its arrestees and close its own jails. The city would negotiate how much to pay the county to book the 136,000 people Houston police arrest each year, but sheriff’s spokesman Alan Bernstein called $255 per head a “working figure.”

By my math, that means the city pays the county nearly $35 million a year in booking fees.

But Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack suggests the county should consider reversing the deal. The city could build the booking center/jail and take inmates from the sheriff.

“I think the city of Houston needs to have a bond election for the whole thing and we’ll pay a per diem” for each county inmate housed at the new facility, Radack said.

Although the sheriff insists the booking center is not a jail and not a response to chronic county jail overcrowding, it has 1,200 beds. Radack sees the proposal as a reprise of the jail bond measure that voters rejected three years ago.

“It’s a jail. Period,” Radack said, and shouldn’t be sold as something else. Radack said building a new facility does not make sense when the county can rent beds so cheaply in other counties and even out of state. Harris County pays about $38 to $45 per inmate per day to other jails to hold its 1,500 overflow inmates. With a glut of jail space in the region, a Louisiana jail has offered to take inmates for as little as $29 a day.

So Radack is unlikely to back the project, be it a booking center or a jail, when it comes to Commissioners Court [today].

It’s interesting to see Radack, who has set himself up as the chief opponent of whatever Sheriff Garcia wants to do, push back on this by calling it a jail, which Garcia clearly does not want to do. What Radack doesn’t do is argue that more needs to be done to reduce the inmate population before any further jail construction is undertaken. Apparently, he’s happy enough to keep shipping people off to Newton County or wherever. Is he giving up on the jail czar idea, or does he just have lower expectations than some of us?

Anyway. I’m still willing to hear the details of this proposal, but I’ll need to know how this fits in with the overall plan of jailing fewer people before I can support it. We can do better than outsourcing inmates, that’s for sure.

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2 Comments

  1. […] the way, Commissioners Court did not take up the matter of the proposed booking center, rendering it effectively dead for this year. County Judge Ed Emmett says he does not expect a bond […]

  2. […] a thoughtful post by Scott Henson on his visit to the Harris County jail and the proposed booking center, which was touted as a gateway primarily for arrestees with mental health issues. While […]