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Harris County to Study Privatizating Entire Jail System

Harris County
Harris County
The Harris County Commission has voted to open study on privatizing the entirity of that county's massive jail system (Kevin Reece, "Harris County to study privatizing Harris County Jail", KHOU, September 28,)

In a budget debate that included discussion of possibly raising Harris County taxes by 2012, ending take-home car privileges for county employees and closing county parks one day each week, Harris County Commissioners agreed to study the idea of handing over the Harris County Detention System to a private company.
 
Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack proposed the jail privatization idea as one of several ways for the county to trim its budget. The county’s budget officer told commissioners that, at the present mid-year review, the county has $34 million less to work with than expected and could have as much as $51 million less by the end of the fiscal year.

Harris County's jail system, according to the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, had 9,074 pre-trial detainees as of September 1st and a capacity of 11,006.  Privatization of that system would make it the largest private jail or prison in the nation.  Harris already sends 1,500 inmates to private jails. 

According to the Houston Chronicle (Chris Moran, "Garcia endures rough day at court; County leaders strike back at call to fill vacancies," Sept. 28), Sheriff Adrian Garcia, appears to be lukewarm on the idea of privatization,

Garcia said he is not opposed to privatization, but pointed out that state law puts the sheriff in charge of the county jail. Even if the county contracted jailers, he said, "The law holds me accountable for the inmates. It holds me accountable for the treatment of those inmates."

Then there are the employees who work in the jail. "I don't know if that (privatization) is code for firing employees," Garcia said.

Clearly, privatization is a huge decision, and one that Harris County Commissioners must make carefully.  We will be covering this issue in earnest.