Harris County in Jail Quandary

Harris County officials need to figure out how to expand jail space. They tried to pass a bond referendum last year to pay for a new jail, but voters didn't approve that measure. They may end up trying again this in this election. Laurie Johnson has more.
The Harris County jail is overcrowded. The county already sends inmates to Louisiana when it gets too full. And the problem is worsening.

"We have to provide jail space. I mean you have the Commission on Jail Standards and you have Feds and all these people that are going to be looking at it. And we have to do what's necessary to at the same time protect the population from criminals and make sure that the criminals are given adequate housing."

Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says it's critical for the county to have more jail space. The problem is how to pay for a new facility.

"We could try and figure out how to do it without bond money, and that certainly is an option — a scaled down version of the jail. But we have a growing population and unfortunately every time the population grows you get a criminal element in there and you've got to do something with them. There are a lot of people though, I think it has to be said, that would like to see the county and the way we approach prisoners to where we would reduce the number who actually end up being incarcerated. And that too has got to be looked at."

The most likely scenario is the county will try another bond referendum this fall. The deadline to get that item on the ballot is looming. So commissioners are trying to determine if a second shot is feasible. The City of Houston has already passed a $32 million bond referendum for their portion, but can't move forward with construction until the county raises the necessary money.

Laurie Johnson. KUHF-Houston Public Radio News.
Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...