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Jail privatization

Does anyone really think that privatizing the Harris County Jail would be a good idea?

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.

“We need to look at trying to save taxpayers’ money and try to see if there’s a cheaper way of operating the Harris County jails,” he said. “I think the best way to do that is to put the request for proposals out on the street to see who’s interested and what their proposals are.”

The resulting ideas could result in a limited contract — for food or medical services, for instance — or total privatization, Radack said.

Anybody got a phone number for Accenture handy? I’m sure they’ll be happy to do a proposal.

County Judge Ed Emmett said it never hurts to seek efficiencies, but said he has reservations about the proposal.

“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.”

As Grits points out, any savings would likely come from the privatizer paying guards less. Hey, that profit margin has to come from somewhere. Given the poor history of the jail with things like inmate deaths, sanitation, and access to health care back when Radack’s buddy Tommy Thomas was running things, this does not sound like a recipe for success to me. This proposal is really just another attack by Radack on Sheriff Adrian Garcia, since Radack never gave a damn about costs before Garcia’s election in 2008. Hopefully, this idea will get the quick burial it deserves.

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5 Comments

  1. Al Clarke says:

    Why shouldn’t Harris County consider privatizing their jail operations? A study does not imply that such will and should be done. I think with the costs of the jail operation being incredibly high – remember we house prisoners in other states and jails across Texas – such warrants this area ripe for review and possible cost reductions. County Judge Emmett seems to be clear that if justifications for such and cost savings are appropriate then such might be feasible. He has not signed off on privatization but appears willing to consider such IF benefits can be demonstrated. That should be the goal of any study or analysis regarding privatization or restructuring.
    I also think Harris County should examine why we have four (4) parks depts, four (4) road and bridge depts, four (4) parks depts, four (4) senior services/programming dept, four (4) transportation depts, and four (4) duplicative administrators for these depts since EACH COUNTY COMMISSIONER oversees his own depts in their own precinct for these services. Simply consolidating these services could save Harris County much in funding, reduce duplication of services and employees, and reduce the “my kingdom” mentality that exists among Commissioners.
    It is time for Harris County government officials to finally closely examine the structure and costs of delivering services. Jails and criminal justice are major expenditures within the county budget and they warrant scrutiny. With reduced state funding our jails will grow in population and costs will rise, especailly as more individuals in need of mental health services end up as “guests” of the criminal justice system and our county jail.
    Commissioner Radack’s motives may be to “slam” Sheriff Garcia, but the idea of examining privatization of the jail is not a bad idea and one long overdue.

  2. jost says:

    It is also about campaign donations. Private companies that develop & operate private jails and prisons donate a lot of money to politicians. Do some research on the whole Arizona thing to arrest illegals and you will see what I am talking about. The ties between AZ politicians and the private company that operates in AZ is stunning.

  3. Al Clarke says:

    Absolutely………money makes things happen politically. However, I still see nothing wrong with a study to assess the feasability of privatization of the jail operations. Why do you think all four (4) County Commissioners have their own parks depts, road and bridge depts, parks depts, senior services/programming dept, and transportation depts. It is about power, but it is a great way to control who does business in your precinct and that means contracts and money which means campaign contributions back to the incumbent commissioner’s re-election.

  4. […] news – the item came up on the Court agenda back in April (page 21) and was duly reported and blogged about at the time. The Court authorized a study of the possibilities of privatization, which as far as I […]

  5. […] here and here for the background. I think we can all agree that any discussion about this needs to be […]

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