Raiders of the Lost Pork

June 12, 2008 10:07:24 PM PDT
The 13 marks the spot. It's a sign that 13 Undercover has found more of your tax money wasted. This time it is inside the Harris County Criminal Courthouse.

The Harris County Sheriff's Office told voters last year it needed tens of millions of dollars for a new inmate processing center. And maybe they do, but they were keeping a little secret and we now know what it was. Indiana Jones may look for secret treasure, but 13 Undercover looks for wasted tax money. We're kind of like Raiders of the Lost Pork.

The $81 million criminal justice center is the biggest criminal courthouse in the country. It was finished nearly ten years ago.

Under a surveillance camera the sign warns video must stop here. Behind this door it's a secure area where prisoners are kept.

"It was built as an inmate processing center," said Major Don McWilliams with the Harris County Sheriff's Office.

The sheriff's office has a key, but where are the prisoners?

We found detox cells being used as storage closets.

Of course the lights are left on, so you can see the waste and the unused sinks.

"It did apparently sit vacant for a number of years," McWilliams said.

Not quite long enough for thousands of crawling critters to call it home, but long enough to get really dusty.

There is an elevator you paid for to bring the prisoners to court. It's fair to say the elevator has never moved an inmate.

"No it has not," said McWilliams.

You don't have to push to open control room doors because fire extinguishers prop them open. There's no guard looking at the monitors, manning the electronics, controlling surveillance cameras or flood lights.

"As a boots on the ground processing commander, I don't think this design was ever appropriate from a security perspective," McWilliams told us.

On the side of the criminal justice center there are big garage doors. There is also a sally port to bring in prisoners which now serves as free parking for the lucky few who know the secret.

"There sheriff knows it hasn't been used as an inmate processing area and he's not the only one," said McWilliams.

Of course the sheriff doesn't talk to 13 Undercover, but in nearly nine years, bet no one ever told you until now.

"I think it's fair to expect the county to put this area to use," McWilliams said.

After all it's only been nine years. And get this one, remember Tropical Storm Allison in 2001? The unused inmate center was flooded and repaired for the prisoners that have never been there.

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