Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Jail is Overcrowded, So They Are Sending Folks to Frio County

To ease crowding in the Travis County jail system, the Travis County Commissioners Court voted Tuesday to immediately move 100 inmates to Frio County and add staff to help the district attorney's office prosecute cases more quickly.

The commissioners also voted to ask the Texas Commission on Jail Standards for permission to use more temporary beds.

Longer-term solutions, such as a new district court and upgraded jail facilities, are scheduled for discussion July 12.

The Travis County's jail population has averaged 2,756 inmates per day in June, said Maj. David Balagia, who runs the jails.

That's 500 more than the system is designed and staffed to handle, Sheriff Greg Hamilton said, and 400 more than were incarcerated at this time last year.

That will not solve the crowding, but it will provide a little relief, Hamilton said. County officials say the concern about crowding is based on the safety of inmates and jail staff, as well as the taxpayer-funded staff overtime required to monitor a population that size.

Last week, Hamilton told commissioners that unexpected jail crowding would put the sheriff's office almost $1 million over budget — and maybe even deeper in the red, depending on how much the population swells during summer.

The commissioners tentatively approved money from the county reserves to cover the shortfall.
The population shot up sharply over the past year, after efforts by the county and district attorney's office had reduced it.

For instance, in July 2002, the inmate population averaged 2,814. In September of that year, the district attorney's office introduced a "rocket docket" designed to quickly move low-level drug cases from booking to court date. This helped drop the July 2003 average population to 2,186 inmates.

A "missile docket," designed to do the same for low-level felonies such as burglary and forgery, was introduced in August 2004.

Balagia said efforts to reduce crowding are working, but the system can't keep up with the sheer number of cases, particularly violent crimes and serious drug offenses.
In 2002, about 7,400 cases were filed in District Court, District Attorney Ronnie Earle told the Commissioners Court on Tuesday. In 2003 and 2004, about 9,000 indictments were filed, Earle said.

At his request, the commissioners unanimously approved hiring three more lawyers as well as support staff for them.

Earle's office estimates the added staff will result in 65 fewer inmates on any given day.
Inmates in Travis County jails cost taxpayers about $26 a day, said Travis County Judge Sam Biscoe.

But, given the staff the county now has, that estimate is accurate only if the jail population holds to about 2,750 inmates, Biscoe said. Beyond that, the costs go up considerably.
Frio County is charging about $37 a day per inmate, although that will probably go up when the costs for medications are taken into account, Biscoe said.

Moving inmates to the detention facility, which is in Pearsall, southwest of San Antonio and about 134 miles from Central Austin, is temporary, Biscoe said.

On July 12, commissioners will consider adding staff, jail space or a district court (estimated price tag: $1.6 million).

The calculus gets more complicated because the county is putting together a list of bond projects to send to voters in November. That package could include jail upgrades.

The list of projects now tops $440 million, with $80.7 million in jail projects. The commissioners say they don't want the list to exceed $100 million.

Full Story

If you have a friend or relative that has been arrested for DWI, please click here. We can help.