Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday also is expected to order a $70 million bond election for a long-discussed facility to process inmates arrested by county and city law enforcement.
The proposed $100 million facility, a significantly pared down version of a project county voters rejected in 2007, would replace the main county jail’s cramped processing center, which has been operating over capacity even as the jail population has fallen.
The proposal also would fulfill the city’s longtime wish to shutter its two aging jails, which cost $25 million a year to operate.
Voters narrowly rejected a $195 million bond measure to build a much larger jail facility six years ago. That version of the project was a $245 million jail with 2,500 beds and expansive mental health and medical facilities.
Advocates emphasize that the new proposal is not a jail. With 552 short-term beds, the project is designed primarily as a processing facility, aimed at getting inmates in and out more quickly and cheaply by eliminating duplicative city-county law enforcement processes.
The building also would have space for social service agencies to help released inmates, especially the mentally ill, return to society.
“It’s changed, really,” County Judge Ed Emmett said. “We’re talking about a building that will make the current jails much more efficient and that will allow us to address the mental health issues that plague so many of the people that get arrested.”
As you know, I voted against that 2007 referendum. This one is different, and I plan to vote for it. The key point here is that this project will not mean an increase in jail capacity, which was my main point of opposition to the 2007 referendum, but a more efficient way to process short-term inmates. It will also allow the city to close its outmoded and costly jails, which has been a goal for a long time. The county jail is in much better shape now, thanks in large part to the efforts of Sheriff Adrian Garcia, and everyone is on board with the idea of keeping the inmate count down, though there is still much to be done on that front. This proposed facility is in line with the good work that has been done so far, and I’m happy to support it.