The Houston Chronicle reports that Harris County is sending several hundred jail detainees to a Louisiana private prison operated by Emerald Companies. The county jail has been plagued for years with chronic overcrowding problems and has regularly been de-certified by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards (TCJS) as result.
Historically, Harris County shifts the blame to other agencies and officials for its overcrowding problems. For example, Commissioner Steve Radack continues to argue that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) does not pick up "paper-ready" prisoners within the 45 days that they should.
Some background: The Texas Commission on Jail Standards defines "paper-ready" inmates as an inmate awaiting transfer to a state prison following a conviction of a felony or revocation of probation, parole or release on mandatory supervision and for whom all paperwork and processing required under Section 8(a), Article 42.09, Code of Criminal Procedure is completed.
Yet, according to TCJS, on June 1st (the last time statistics are available), only 136 inmates detained in all of Texas' county jails were classified as TDCJ paper-ready and past the 45-day mark. On that same day, Harris County incarcerated more than 200 detainees beyond their current capacity levels.
Stakeholders in Harris County could implement decisions today that would address overcrowding with and not require contracting with private prison companies.