Lack of funds to blame for jail overcrowding

April 17, 2010 4:14:31 PM PDT
Make no mistake about it: If you're suspected of a serious crime, there is definitely a place for you at the city and county jail.

But a day after Houston police announced it wouldn't arrest people with outstanding traffic violations, the police chief says the situation is not that unusual. It wasn't immediately clear how long it will last.

"It has happened in the past?even before the sheriff instituted the new policy," Houston Police Department Police Chief Charles McClelland said.

However, it wasn't immediately clear how long the situation may last. "It can go from day to day, but we don't expect this to happen very long," McClelland said.

The city jail has a capacity of 400 inmates. In order to relieve the crowding problem, the county and city needs a joint booking facility, and that's something they've been working on for years.

"This is the outcome of not having a new jail," Houston City Councilwoman Melissa Noriega said. "And when people vote against a bond election, or vote against the resources that we need to manage things, this is what happens."

Noriega points out that three years ago, voters rejected a bond proposal that would have paid for a joint county-city processing center. As a result, the county jail has gotten more crowded, while elected officials are left looking for money to build a new facility.

"We've had an overcrowded jail for years," Harris County District Attorney Pat Lykos said. "But what it points out, it's absolutely imperative that we start now on creating that central processing center for inmates.

If county commissioners approve a new jail project, it will, at best, be four years before a new, joint facility will be completed.

In the meantime, county and city law enforcement will have to use a combination of better technology, inmate management and not arresting certain non-violent offenders to deal with overcrowding.

"These are not dangerous violent offenders that are being diverted, so I don't think the public's at risk," McClelland said.

Since the rejection of that bond proposal, city and council officials have been trying to find a solution. If a county proposal passes this summer, which includes a tax increment reinvestment zone, a joint facility will be built in at least four years.

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