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Harris County Commissioner proposes privatizing jail system

Harris County Jail
Harris County Jail
Mike Morris at the Houston Chronicle reports ("Privatizing County Jail on commissioners' agenda: Radack says it could be a way to cut back on costs," April 18) that at least one Harris County Commissioner is proposing privatizing Harris County's massive jail system.  According ot the story,

"Harris County Commissioners Court will consider a proposal to study privatizing the Harris County Jail, the state's largest lockup, with nearly 10,000 inmates.

The suggestion comes from Commissioner Steve Radack, who said the item is a way for the county to examine all ways of cutting costs as budget cuts take hold and scores of county workers are laid off."

While there isn't a firm proposal on the table as of yet, this is clearly a troubling development. As this blog has chronicled, private jails have been plagued with mismanagement and operational problems.  Furthermore, turning over the Harris County jail system to a private corporation will further empower an industry that relies on ever increasing incarceration rates for growth. 

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett raises further concerns in the story,

"I wouldn't be in favor of moving forward at all until somebody comes forward and says, 'This is why privatization would be good,' and gives me some concrete examples," Emmett said. "Clearly, it would be a massive change that would be undertaken neither lightly nor quickly. … It's one thing to say we're going to privatize a jail in a very small rural setting, but to talk about a jail like ours, where not only is it a jail but it's currently the largest mental health facility in the state of Texas — this is a large undertaking."

A large undertaking indeed.  According to the latest TCJS numbers, Harris County has nearly 8763 prisoners, making it one of the largest jails in the country.  Harris County also currently ships more than 1,000 prisoners to two private jails in Lousiana and the Community Education Centers' Newton County Correctional Facility

Here is some of our previous coverage of Harris County's overcrowding and privatization issues.