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The cost of jailing parole violators

We sure do spend a lot of money putting people in jail that don’t really need to be there.

Each month, an average of 2,286 state parole violators are housed in Texas jails, a policy costing taxpayers at least $42 million a year. Harris County has the largest tab — estimated at $7.6 million. This year, Harris County has had from 900 to 1,250 parole violators in jail each month.

As local and state budgets get increasingly tightened, Sheriff Adrian Garcia and other members of the Sheriffs’ Association of Texas are asking the Legislature for help with jail costs.

“I stand with sheriffs across Texas who have agreed on allowing state parole violators who are in our custody for technical reasons, and technical reasons only, to post bond,” Garcia said in a statement released by his office. “Allowing them to make bond for technical issues makes sense because we need jail space for those violators who are committing new crimes and have yet to go through the criminal justice system.”

Brazos County Sheriff Chris Kirk, who chairs the association’s legislative committee, said changing the law to allow bond for parole violators is the group’s second-highest priority for next year’s legislative session, trailing only border security issues.

“The folks that are under parole violation (warrants) eat up a lot of our beds in our jails across the state, and bed space is a very precious resource for the counties,“ Kirk said. “So to lose 10 to 20 percent of your beds to parole violations is a terrible impact on that resource.”

In 2007, a bill allowing bond for parole violators was passed by the Legislature but Gov. Rick Perry vetoed it, insisting it would jeopardize public safety. During the most recent session in 2009, similar bills were introduced but were not voted on after objections were raised by prosecutors.

When the federal government tells states what to do, Rick Perry cries that it’s fascism, tyranny, overreach, trampling of states’ rights, blah blah blah and so on. But it’s perfectly okay for Rick Perry to tell counties and cities what to do. Just so we’re clear on that.

I suppose it’s possible that the 2007 bill might have had some cause for concern about public safety, though the Republican-controlled legislature didn’t see it that way. There’s another version of the bill in the works for this session, which supposedly addresses these concerns, so we’ll see if it has any better luck. What I know is that a big part of the “budget cuts” we’re going to see next spring will really be transfers of responsibility from the state to local government. Given that, the least the state can do is make it easier for local governments to cut their own costs in sensible ways. Grits has more.

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