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County Jail Capacity Expands in Texas

According to the San Antonio Express News, county jail capacity increased dramatically in recent years and continues to grow. Reportedly, 52 new jails are currently under construction or in the early planning stages.

Texas counties contain more that 84,000 county jail beds -- nearly 10,000 of those beds are private (see chart below). About 32,000 jail detainees are pretrial felons compared to 10,100 convicted felons. Remaining jail detainees include misdemeanants, parole violators, state jail felons, and those held on bench warrants.

Expanding jail capacity continues to be a failed policy option. Jail space has grown significantly in recent years, and yet cities like Houston, Dallas, and San Antonio continue to experience chronic overcrowding. We previously reported that Harris County (Houston) is dealing with overcrowding problems by sending detainees to a privately managed lockup several hundred miles away in Louisiana. Jail crowding leads to significant problems like exposure to infectious disease and high levels of violence due to inadequate staffing levels.

During the 80th Legislative Session, lawmakers implemented legislation that allows law enforcement officials to issue citations for certain Class B misdemeanors rather than lock up defendants in county jails. Other policy measures have yet to be implemented. Grits for Breakfast recently posted about the governor's veto of a significant piece of legislation that would permit parole violators to "bond out" of county jail lockups.

Yet, local officials can implement innovative solutions to improve criminal justice policy in their jurisdiction. For example, they could strengthen pre-release bond programs for low-level, nonviolent defendants. Additionally, in counties like Harris and Dallas where multiple law enforcement agencies contribute to the jail population, the sheriff must work with the judges, district attorneys and police chiefs to address law enforcement and prosecution strategies that contribute to county jail growth. Finally, local officials could leverage available resources to divert defendants arrested for minor, nonviolent offenses to secure facilities where they would receive help and alleviate crowding.

According to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, 18 of the states 246 county jails are privately managed.

 

Private County Jail Capacity

(as of August 1, 2007)

County

Population

Capacity

% of Capacity

Angelina 108111
97.30
Bowie 897921 97.39
Brooks 409 544 75.18
Dickens 402 490 82.04
Falls 96 107 89.72
Frio 296 391 75.70
Haskell
524 555 94.41
Hidalgo
888 990 89.70
Hudspeth
443 518 85.52
Jefferson
453 496 91.33
La Salle
501 566 88.52
Liberty
340 372 91.40
Limestone
999 1022 97.75
McLennan
321 326 98.47
Newton
858 932 92.06
Polk
534 1054 50.66
Val Vere
187 187100.00
Zavala
495515
96.12
Total
8,6439,747
88.67

(Source: Texas Commission on Jail Standards)

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