Harris County Commissioners approved ("Harris County rejects leasing Galveston jail," Houston Chronicle, June 3, 2008) earlier this week measures to send up to 1,000 jail detainees to Louisiana through private contracts with three parishes in the state. Over the last year, the county had already relied on sending 730 prisoners across state lines.
As of Tuesday, about 11,000 inmates were being held in Harris County Jail facilities. The jail is certified to hold 9,400 inmates, but the county has the state's permission to temporarily hold 2,000 more on "variance beds," nonstandard metal frame bunks on the floor.
Sending jail detainees out of state will cost local tax payers $15 million a year. In addition to this recently approved measure, Commissioners also considered leasing a vacant jail in nearby Galveston County.
These latest developments emphasize that county officials continue to focus on expanding capacity to deal with chronic overcrowding measures -- rather than looking at other solutions. We have posted previously the litany of recommendations that have been suggested by Scott Henson with Grits for Breakfast and Marc Levin with the Texas Public Policy Foundation.
Voters denied lawmakers the authority to expand the jail during last November's elections. Yet, still officials continue to explore ways to build further jail capacity. According to reports, these discussions will surface again at a meeting later this month and at the budget meeting in September. Voters should watch out for the strong possibilty that jail expansion will once again be on the November ballot.