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Eversole and Radack get jail overcrowding religion

Actually, what County Commissioners Jerry Eversole and Steve Radack have is a case of criticize-the-Sheriff-itis.

Harris County Commissioner Jerry Eversole implied at meeting earlier today that the county’s sheriff, Adrian Garcia, acted improperly and wasted tax payer money when he moved inmates from a jail in Lousiana to a jail in Texas.

“If I were doing what Sheriff Garcia is allowed to do, I would be indicted,” Eversole said. “Not just looked at. Indicted! For being able to take a $28 prisoner and put him in a $45 jail. You tell me I wouldn’t be.”

If anyone would know about that, it’s Jerry Eversole. See beneath the fold for a response from the HCDP about this. But I digress.

Eversole, along with Commissioner Steve Radack, was particularly peeved that Garcia recently moved inmates between jails.

“Isn’t it true that we took people out of Louisiana, where we were paying less money to house them, and moved them into Texas where we pay more?” Radack said. “Why did this happen? How did it happen? How many millions did this cost us?”

Eversole added, “I don’t understand how [Garcia] can write a contract, or have it written, without anybody at this table having any say about it,” Eversole said. “Why does the sheriff get to choose?”

Garcia, after the meeting, answered the question quite simply: “I’m the jail administrator,” he said.

But, Garcia said, “Everyday we’re working to make sure we are getting the best market value for that process, and trying to find ways to get these inmates off of the tax rolls all together.”

Radack was all hot and bothered, too.

Maj. Mike Smith, who runs the jails for Garcia, said the death of a Harris County inmate in a Louisiana jail in February prompted a freeze while the death was investigated. The number of Harris County inmates in Louisiana dropped from about 1,000 to 165.

The county resumed sending inmates to Louisiana earlier this month after the investigation cleared officials there of wrongdoing in the prisoner’s death, and the count has climbed by more than 200 just this month.

The sheriff and the county budget director said they expect the county will send a much greater proportion of inmates to Louisiana in coming months.

“It’s too damned late,” Commissioner Steve Radack said at the meeting. “How many millions of dollars did it cost us?”

Sure is nice to see so much concern about how much Harris County is spending on incarceration costs, isn’t it? Well, here’s a fun exercise. Take a look through the Chronicle’s archives for any stories that contain the name Eversole, along with “jail” and “overcrowding”. I did such a search from January 1, 2001 through January 1, 2009 – that is, through former Sheriff Tommy Thomas’ last two terms – and got five articles. I did the same substituting “Radack” for “Eversole” and got 14. Here’s a sample:

From September 27, 2006:

The county may spend at least $260 million to build jails and juvenile-detention facilities as it tries to address state agencies’ criticisms that its jails are overcrowded.

Commissioners Court gave an initial green light Tuesday to building a $245 million adult-inmate-processing center downtown, a $22.5 million adult jail for low-level offenders in Atascocita and possibly an adjacent juvenile-detention facility at that location in far northeast Harris County.

[…]

The sheriff’s office is projecting its jail population will average nearly 9,800 inmates this year, more than 1,330 above jail capacity, says a report by the county’s budget office.

[…]

Commissioner Jerry Eversole, whose district includes Atascocita, praised the proposed location because it is not near residential areas. “It should not cause a tremendous amount of furor from the community,” he said. “It should be a good use of this property.”

The jail could be built in modular units, with the first 400-bed facility open by summer of 2008 and the facility completed by 2010, said Dick Raycraft, county budget and management-services director.

Lots of concern about how much we’re spending to house inmates, no? Here’s another, from December 11, 2006:

County Judge Robert Eckels and other members of Commissioners Court said the jails are needed to reduce overcrowding now and in the coming decades.

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards has cited the jail for overcrowding the past two years. Dormitory-like cells designed for 24 inmates have housed more than twice that number.

Eckels said the county cannot put off building the facilities, since its population is projected to double to 7 million in the next 20 years, and that will increase the need for jail capacity.

Even if some officials oppose the county’s bond proposals, the referendums still are likely to pass, said Commissioner Steve Radack. The last time a county bond referendum failed was in the late 1960s, said Dick Raycraft, director of county budget and management services.

Oopsie. Too bad they didn’t have a Plan B. From December 12, 2006:

Harris County currently spends nearly 16 percent – about $174 million – of its annual operating expenses on the current jail system. Adding the two proposed jails, where construction cost is at least $267 million, would increase maintenance costs to as much as 25 percent, say opponents of the plan. They say the county can maintain public safety without building the facilities.

The county has yet to determine exact costs to operate the proposed facilities. Two county leaders said they were not in a position to discuss what percentage of the county’s budget would be needed to maintain the buildings, but they would not dispute that most likely the percentage would rise.

[…]

Commissioner Steve Radack acknowledged that the county will spend more on jail expenses if the two jails are built. “The public will have to make a decision when it comes to the inmate population,” he said. “And that decision will be does the public want to keep people incarcerated or do they want to pay with damages and break-ins to their property and possibly their lives if we don’t keep people incarcerated.”

Translation: You need to spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars on new jails or WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!!! How much more fiscally responsible than that can you be?

You get the idea. Feel free to do the same search for yourself. The points I’m making are 1) Except for Radack griping about the state not removing convicted felons from the county jails soon enough, neither Radack nor Eversole expressed any concern about jail overcrowding or the costs associated with housing all those needlessly incarcerated inmates while Thomas was Sheriff, even though that’s when all the overcrowding problems happened; and 2) Both were perfectly willing to spend a crapload of money on new facilities, even as Radack now disingenuously criticizes Sheriff Garcia for floating a proposal similar to the one Radack himself backed strongly in 2007. The only difference between then and now – the only reason why they care so much about how much the county is spending on keeping people locked up – is the identity, and the party affiliation, of the Sheriff. The issue just did not exist for them while Tommy Thomas was in office. I know, I’m as shocked as you are.

By the way, Commissioners Court did not take up the matter of the proposed booking center, rendering it effectively dead for this year. County Judge Ed Emmett says he does not expect a bond issue to be on the ballot this November.

UPDATE: I guess I didn’t make myself fully clear here. I’m being sarcastic about Radack and Eversole “getting religion” on jail overcrowding, because the only concern they are expressing is with how much it costs to rent prison space elsewhere. At no point are they saying we need to be incarcerating fewer inmates, they just want to pay less per inmate that we outsource.

The following is a statement from local state Democratic party spokesman Anthony Gutierrez regarding Commissioner Eversole’s remarks this morning towards Sheriff Adrian Garcia:

Today’s comments are completely inappropriate, especially coming from someone as ethically challenged as Eversole. This is blatantly absurd coming from the man who, by his own admission [1], said he expects the ongoing FBI investigation to lead his own indictment.

And it speaks volumes about Ed Emmett’s failed ethics reform that a corrupt politician can use an official session of commissioner’s court to say these things about a person who has dedicated their life to law enforcement.
####

Citation:
[1] Houston Chronicle: Eversole expects FBI probe to force him out of office (9/5/2008)
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/5984728.html

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5 Comments

  1. Well, to put a slightly more generous, less partisan spin on it, you could also argue that Radack and Eversole already asked the voters for a new jail and were told “no.” They tried the “build a new jail or you’ll die” ploy and it didn’t work. Now the economy is in much worse economic shape than in 2007. Assuming they’re not morons and learn from what happens to them in life, maybe they just don’t want to make the same mistake twice?

    Garcia’s proposal was half-baked for the same reasons the same proposal was flawed when Thomas proposed it: He wants a bigger jail but he can’t afford to staff the one he’s got.

  2. Sure, you could look at it that way, and if Radack in particular didn’t have such a long track record of being reflexively critical of Garcia, I might buy it. But 1) neither of them mentioned the budget, at least not in any report I’ve seen, in criticizing Garcia; 2) neither of them mentioned reducing the prison population, just paying less to incarcerate the inmates we’re outsourcing; and 3) neither gave lip service to why sending inmates so much farther away might be a bad idea, as County Judge Ed Emmett did. The only concern they have expressed is how much we’re paying for rented prison space for the inmates we don’t have room for here.

  3. Well, but meanwhile Dick Raycraft and others at the direction of the commissioners court are starting to pursue alternatives. Actions speak louder than words. Do Garcia and Lee deserve much more credit? Certainly. But there’s a GOP majority and even Rs on the court have belatedly shifted gears, demonstrating once again the verity of Winston Churchill’s observation that Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing, after they’ve tried everything else. Garcia’s problem is that he’s new so he hasn’t tried everything else yet.

    One thing I learned doing rapid-response/oppo work for candidate campaigns: When someone lodges a legitimate criticism in the public sphere, even a harsh one, their motives for asking the unpleasant question don’t matter nearly as much as the respondent’s answer, and in this case Garcia won’t get his new jail because he didn’t have one. If he could have convinced the two Democrats to join Judge Emmett he could have gotten his bond election, but clearly one or both of them disagreed with him, too, they just didn’t voice their reasons.

    Finally, don’t criticize politicians for changing their positions over the years or else they’ll never learn from their mistakes. In 2003 at the Lege when the last budget crisis hit, there were Republicans who for years had been pushing tuff-on-crime agendas who, once the crisis was in their lap, “got religion” and opposed new prison building. If reformers had chosen to criticize them as hypocrites instead of work with them on solutions, the much-praised 2007 probation reforms couldn’t have happened.

    This isn’t a Democrat vs. Republican issue but an institutional one: Notice that whether the Sheriff is Democrat or Republican, they propose the same thing. Partisanship is really a non-issue. I opposed the idea when Thomas backed it, and when Garcia’s pushing it, I’m similarly likely to agree with his opponents regardless of party.

  4. That’s fair, and I certainly agree that when a politician changes his or her position to match your own, that should be lauded. I just don’t believe either Radack or Eversole have changed their positions, at least not in a substantive way. When they start criticizing Garcia for not doing enough to reduce the inmate population, I’ll credit them for seeing the light. Until then, they’re just haggling over the price of our excess inmate capacity.

  5. […] change in approach is due to carping and whining from Commissioners Radack and Eversole. They got their way, now let’s see if there was […]

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