A Jeffersonian In East Texas

August 17, 2008

Smith County Jail The Critical Question

Smith County Schools or Jails | School Bond vs. Jail Bond

Vote Yes For The New Smith County Jail Proposal!

Smith Commissioner Fleming | Well Bless Her Heart…

Sometimes when doing things the same old way for a long time, a solution to a problem seems so obvious that it’s hard to see the forest for the wood. The unfortunate part, is that is rarely the best solution. Such is the case with the Smith county jail issue. I am giving commissioners and others the benefit of the doubt here. Maybe they just don’t understand that there are options other than continually increasing incarceration rates. They may be so caught up in the idea of getting a new jail of some type, that they failed to ask and answer the main question, the most important question of all.

Do we really need a new jail?

As I said, the answer to that question may seem obvious, but it is not. Based on the nature of the offenses which are causing our current jail to be overcrowded, the problem does not seem to be the number of beds, but the snail like pace of the system. There are other factors as well. Child support violators, (after writing on this subject for two years, I still haven’t received a satisfactory answer to that question.) and possession of small, misdemeanor amounts of the dreaded cannabis plant make up a huge number of the cases awaiting trial, and inflating the numbers. This is a far cry from the “murderers and rapists” for which Sheriff Smith needs the increased space. Granted, those violators are there as well, but they make up an infinitesimal part of the population.

The answer to the question posed above is “no”. We do not need a new jail, at least not yet. Solve the other problems first, then let’s talk about an upgrade.

We should also work on learning to maintain a structure of this type, and make plans for future needs in that area. What sort of maintenance staff will be needed, and how will we pay for that increase?

There are hundreds of questions that should be asked before we proceed with such a project, and thus far, none have been answered. Not even the most significant one.

A good place to start would be for the commissioners to ask the judges for their input, and this time, to take it to heart!

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A Jail or A Fence For Smith County | Revisited.

Smith County Schools or Jails | School Bond vs. Jail Bond

Vote Yes For The New Smith County Jail Proposal!

Smith Commissioner Fleming | Well Bless Her Heart…

I asked in a former post, whether Smith county needed a new jail, or a fence around the county. I thought it might be time to revisit the idea. Since Smith county incarcerates it’s citizens at a rate 51% higher than the state average, and since we live in a state that incarcerates 44% more of it’s citizens than the national average, which is higher than any totalitarian regime in power today, we are obviously the scum of the earth, and should all be locked away! Add the probation figures, and delete the overlaps, and the figures are frightening! Something must be done about, well, about us! We need to be kept from mingling with the population of the civilized world, lest we infect them with our peculiar criminality!

“We are not all criminals!” The statistics seem to tell a different tale! It would seem, that if you have not been incarcerated, or put on probation, you must have been missed, but don’t worry, this over site will soon be corrected! They just haven’t gotten around to you yet. They are trying to build a new jail facility just for locking you away!

  • We either have more criminals, or
  • The Sheriff’s department is better than average at catching and incarcerating criminals, or
  • Something is wrong.

Let me make the extension for you. Something is definitely wrong!

In any case, we don’t need a new jail.

  • If something is wrong, it should be corrected.
  • If the constabulary is that efficient, all crime will soon cease.
  • If we are really that bad, we don’t need a jail, we need a fence!

August 16, 2008

Smith County Commissioners | Can We Trust Them?

Why would people, and why should people not trust the commissioners court to give them the truth about the new jail proposal? Well, for starters, it was done in a clandestine manner. The current proposal, and the last proposal were done without the presence of the “naysayers”, as some on the court have called them in the past. Sure, there was token involvement, under cover of darkness by some who were formerly opposed, but no real naysayers. The naysayers decided to have their say at the poles on the last proposal, and as I said before, it was a big horse laugh right in the face of official arrogance! Seems we haven’t moved very far since then.

You might want to add to this list, the fact that the court in it’s wisdom has constantly, consistently, arrogantly and relentlessly avoided the issue of why jail overcrowding is a problem, and the myriad of ways to deal with it before it gets to incarceration. This is important, because if you do not solve this piece of the puzzle, you will find any new jail overcrowded soon after it’s opening. It would seem to make sense to solve this, and then see what sort of new facility might be needed. In this case, the commissioners court is not the only problem. The district attorney was handed one solution on a silver platter, freshly passed by legislators, and signed by the governor, and has refused to take it seriously.

The newest proposal is precisely what I expected, a “jailzilla lite” with an open end. A few scoops of dirt removed from what will become a bottomless pit for tax dollars and the hundreds of potential inmates working and playing and living and breathing in this county.

I know it is too late to make a long story short, but the short of of is, that people will not, and should not trust the commissioners court, until they wholeheartedly use some of the other methods, and stop trying to hide their plans behind closed doors.

It Is Official: Smith County Annual Jail Bond Circus Proposed

Smith County Schools or Jails | School Bond vs. Jail Bond

Vote Yes For The New Smith County Jail Proposal!

Smith Commissioner Fleming | Well Bless Her Heart…

It Is Official: Smith County Annual Jail Bond Circus Proposed

Once again I am running a bit behind on the news, but I thought I would post this piece here from my Jailhouse Revolt Blog
This entry was posted on 7/30/2008 5:19 PM and is filed under Smith County Jail.

This was from my initial reaction to the fact that yes, they were going to try to do it to us again, without doing anything about the root cause. In answer to Ms. Flemming’s comment on the news: Yes, we are under an order to solve the jail overcrowding, but no, it can not be solved by building more jails! Please see the piece on this site about the arrogance of Smith county commissioners.

I love the work going on with the new blog on the block, the What Part of No…Committee. It’s good to have some company! Keep up the good work, and thanks for the links to this blog! Let’s get in touch.

Anyway, I hope this helps:

High School Football, County Fairs, and now a new annual Autumn event in East Texas: The annual Smith county jail bond proposal! Send in the clowns!

The new proposal, is lower in calories than the last, and county officials are hoping that it will be more palatable than the last two, but I still don’t think that county voters can, or will choke it down.

A quote from Judge Kent seems appropriate here:

“Insanity has been defined as “continuing to do the same thing and expecting different results.” Smith County has ignored the needs of the justice system, judges, courts, and citizens and has since 1984 generally addressed jail overcrowding by building more jail bed space. I predict this new jail construction plan will cost millions of dollars, if approved by the voters, and once constructed the new jail will be overcrowded the first day it is opened. Sounds crazy to me.”

I thought it might be time to recap some of the facts:

Facts About the Smith County jail:

  • The Smith county jail is overcrowded. That is one we all agree on. This breaks down when we get to the reasons why. When more people are being incarcerated here per capita than in any modern totalitarian regime, there is a much bigger problem!
  • The reason for overcrowding is that there are people there who don’t belong there. The courts and judges have made attempts to correct at least some of this, but the commissioners court has not been supportive of their efforts.
  • The cost to outsource housing of inmates is $5.00 per day over what it would cost to house them in the Smith county jail. This is a fact that was disguised in the past when we were told that the extra cost was $40.00.
  • The cost of housing them in a new Smith county facility will rise enormously if one is built. The annual increase will be millions!
  • The cost of upkeep for such a facility would be more than the present cost, and new personnel would be needed. Further straining the taxpayers. Again, millions!
  • The majority of residents in Smith county do not want a new jail, as evidenced by the landslide defeat of the last proposal.
  • Residents of Smith county will not vote for a new jail until they see evidence that alternative plans are being put into place wholeheartedly.
  • Several viable options are available for lowering the jail population. One even signed by the Governor. These have been regularly and summarily rejected by the commissioners court, with no valid reasons why.
  • Smith county officials are not taking full advantage of these options. In some cases, they are not trying to use the options at all.
  • Smith county residents do not even want to see a new bond election on this issue, not even a scaled down “jailhouse lite” version, until the other options are given a real chance to work!
  • Smith county residents would like to have input in the process, above the level that has been allowed thus far.

Knowing these facts, Smith county commissioners should halt all efforts to propose a new bond in November, and should use their energies to work on the alternatives. We know however, that they will plow forward with their efforts, and that will waste even more of the taxpayers money and time. Oh, by the way, that’s us!

January 10, 2008

Smith County Officials Still Don’t Get it!

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Smith County Schools or Jails | School Bond vs. Jail Bond

Vote Yes For The New Smith County Jail Proposal!

Smith Commissioner Fleming | Well Bless Her Heart…

Another local paper article on Smith County Jail overcrowding and officials response to state legislation allowing for the ticketing of some misdemeanors in place of incarceration has come to my attention.

In short, officials just don’t seem to want to alleviate the overcrowding situation, even when handed the solution in writing, and signed by the Governor! The stated issue seems to be that no one has told them how to do it! Surely someone in officialdom, can come up with a method!

If jail overcrowding is the big problem, and it is, then solving a few minor problems to get the solution should be something they are willing to do. Perhaps they are afraid that this might work, and then all the plans for jailzilla would just plain look silly. It might make the public wonder why so much taxpayer money was spent trying to get something that we don’t even need!

Officials in Tyler and Smith county need to wake up! Proposing a new jail plan in May will look ridiculous if the alternatives are not given a chance to work. County commissioners have already ditched the funding for a program put in place by our judges, and now the D.A. has trashed the efforts of our legislators by refusing to even give the new plan a try! If you think the public was hacked off about commissioners giving themselves raises before the last bond fiasco, wait till you see what happens in the next one!

The following is an older post on the same issue. It was regurgitated from the old blog. County officials might do well to ruminate on it.

Posted by ajeffersonian at 12/9/2007
Smith County Officials Still Don’t Get It!
It has once again become apparent that Smith county officials don’t get it! There has been some talk about tweaking the jail proposal for the May 2008 election, possibly offering a “build it in stages” type plan for the voters.

This is becoming a regular event in Smith county, and the poll results get more lopsided each time it is presented, and still the supporters continue down the same road.

What Jailzilla supporters and the media seem to missing, is the fact that it does not matter how far or how fast they travel down this road, or how doggedly and repeatedly they do so, it is still the wrong road. There are a lot of comments from officials. There are a lot of stories quoting the officials, what is lacking is input from the people who actually walk into the voting booths! It smacks of official arrogance!

The people of Smith county will not say yes to any jail until something is done to lower the incarceration rates! The fact that this is not the main issue in the public domain has at least two causes:

1. The media has not made this part of the issue an area of focus.
2. People don’t want to talk about it in public for fear of being branded “liberals” or “bleeding hearts,” or for fear of harassment.

There will have to be some trust built before the public will even be willing to talk about it! Sure, people will talk around the issue, they will talk about ill timed raises, or jail cost, but the real reasons stay hidden under a cloud of distrust.

The big issue then, becomes the issue of trust. Why it is missing, and how to regain it should become the focus. That is the first step. Whether anyone can see this, or will take any positive action on it, is anyones guess.

Smith County Jail Bond Goes Down In Flames…Again!

Smith County Schools or Jails | School Bond vs. Jail Bond

Vote Yes For The New Smith County Jail Proposal!

Smith Commissioner Fleming | Well Bless Her Heart…

Originally posted 11/6/07 (After the last jail bond voters revolt)

This posting occurred after the defeat of the jail bond in the November 2007 election. It highlights some of the reasons voters turned the bond down, and like most of the other posts you will find here, on this issue, makes a call for Smith county officials to look at the real reasons behind the bonds defeat, and make other adjustments before adding a new tax burden on the people of Smith county.

This article also received a response from Judge Carole Clark on the subject of child support. Her comments will be included in a new post very soon.

Smith County Jail Bond Goes Down In Flames Again, or When Will They Ever Learn?

Smith county residents once again showed amazingly uncommon common sense, and said no to the latest jail proposal. Guys, it is not just the tax issue! It has a lot to do with the fact that residents feel, and justly so, that it is not so much the jail that needs to be revamped, but the entire way that justice is miss-handled in this county!( All the arguments are explored elsewhere on this blog.)

The system would not need a place to stockpile increasing numbers of human bodies, if it would, process the people coming in more quickly, and offer something other than jail for non violent offenders. The state is part of the problem. Jailing child support offenders is the least sensible thing I have ever heard of. I know that something has to be done to encourage the payment of child support, but no one has ever been able to explain to me just how locking them up is benefiting anyone!

Marijuana use, may be a crime. (someone needs to explain that to a lot of lawyers, doctors and other well placed citizens of the county) but is not the same as violent crime. It makes people goofy, and sometimes just plain fat and comatose, but it’s users are rarely the rapists and murderers that we all want to lock away. If you took these “hardened criminals” out of the equation, there would be a lot more open beds.

There is an overall sense in Smith County that the gulag could swallow anyone at any time, and that makes everyone a little nervous, in a county that arrests about double the number of it’s citizens of the state average, in a state that arrests about 40 percent more than the national average, and the numbers of citizens on probation is so insanely high that it should make you worry! I have said before, that if they haven’t arrested you yet, they just haven’t gotten around to it!

The way the system works, almost assures indictment, and either a guilty plea or conviction. Sure, it is jurors who send people to jail or prison for long periods of time, but when the stats are as skewed as they are here, something is wrong!

Revamp the way the system works, and you might just get your jail! Otherwise, you can just keep tilting at windmills.

As a post script, let me say, that the next event that I suspect will occur, is the contriving of some jail related disaster to show people how wrong they are, and to buy sympathy for a jail project. Like: “See, we told you so!”…

Does Smith County Need A Jail Or A Fence?

Filed under: Uncategorized — ajeffersonian @ 1:32 am
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The original posting of the following story was in response to a story in the local newspaper concerning problems in the Smith county jail. Like much of the other media attention given to the jail in Smith county Texas, the story focused on the bad conditions and the need for a new facility, and ignored other, more important aspects of the problem. As in many of our societies most perplexing and difficult situations, much of main stream media becomes partially responsible, perhaps even unknowingly political (that is “unknowingly” if you allow them the benefit of the doubt) in the process. This was our response. I include it here because it has bearing on more recent events and posts.

Originally posted by ajeffersonian at 11/6/2007
If you haven’t been arrested yet, they just haven’t gotten around to it!

The local paper carried the story on Sunday “JAILHOUSE BLUES”, but this is, as Paul Harvey says, “The Rest of the Story.” Well, at least as much of it as I have time to write. The people of Smith county showed incredible good sense in turning down the first jail proposals, ostensibly for tax reasons, which was, bye the way, the rationale for the first American Revolution and several smaller ones to follow. I want to offer a few more thoughts on why we were right.This is not a rant, the logic is sound, and the stats are available to anyone at the official state website.

The statistics tell the tale. Smith county Texas, locks up it’s citizens at about twice the rate of the states average. That is in a state, where the incarceration rate is 44% higher than the national average! Now, why is that? Well, some possible reasons are:

That more of the residents of our county are criminals than any other place in the country.

That our Peace Officers are so highly efficient that they catch and incarcerate more than the rest of the country.

That there is something wrong.

Now, I read an article saying that a big part of the overcrowding problem in the jail, was due to the population growth. Folks, these figures are per capita, so that dog won’t hunt!

If the first is true, we don’t need a new jail, we need a 20 foot high FENCE with razor wire around the county! Well, you say, not everyone in the county is a criminal. My answer, Have you looked at the probation figures? If you couple them, with the per capita incarceration rate provided by official state records, even factoring out the doubling, you would seem to be wrong! You haven’t been arrested? Statistically speaking: THEY JUST HAVEN’T GOTTEN AROUND TO YOU YET!

How about the second possibility? I am sure that we have a fine group of deputies in this county, but, if they are that good at locking away bad guys, there should be a zero crime rate by now!

The options are diminishing. Unfortunately, there really are no others but the last. We either have a higher rate per capita of criminals, the Deputies are more efficient, or something is wrong. THERE ARE NO OTHER OPTIONS!

What then is wrong with our system? For starters, we might consider that many of the inmates in our much maligned jail, are there awaiting trial, for insanely long periods of time. I believe it was one of our Judges who pointed this out. Something needs to be done to get these folks through the system a little quicker. Decrease the bail, or clean up the process and make it move faster. Perhaps some of these folks could be ticketed and mailed a summons unless they are caught in the act of some particularly egregious crime.

Many of the inmates are there for not paying child support. Someone please explain this one to me. Exactly who is benefiting from this practice? It is obvious that this is no better than debtors prison. The guy can’t pay if he can’t work, and he won’t find to many lucrative opportunities in jail. Don’t get me wrong, I know something has to be done, and I am a strong proponent of doing it, but this isn’t it.

The other large group of our locals housed in our facility, seems to be what we once called, “potheads” people who were found with relatively small quantities of the dreaded cannabis. I know that it is illegal under current law, but can’t we do something besides locking these folks away and clogging up the system. I can name a half dozen doctors and lawyers in the area who do the same thing on a daily basis! Can’t we give them a ticket and mail them a summons to report later?

I know the last two things I mentioned are crimes under the law, and since something has to be done about that, I have an idea that might help. One of our judges suggested something along the lines of having these people, after they have gone to court, report on a daily basis for something like a day jail. That is a step in the right direction. We live in a day when it is possible to send a missile down a stovepipe, and locate almost anyone almost any time with a global positioning system Why cant we put a tracker on anyone who might be a flight risk, and give them at least, an opportunity to be productive? Expensive? Yes, but not as expensive as locking them away! If the records are correct, doing this would eliminate more than half the inmates in the county jail!

Sheriff Smith says he just want a place to lock up murderers and rapists, this might help to provide that space. Otherwise, WE DON’T NEED A JAIL, WE NEED A FENCE!

For more on the jail situation check out http://gritsforbreakfast.blogspot.com

January 9, 2008

Smith County Commissioners: People Despise Arrogance

This article was posted on the old blog, and I wanted to bring it along to the new one. A little background might help. Commissioners in Tyler, Smith county Texas have made a couple of proposals for building a new jail in Tyler Texas, the county seat of Smith County Texas. It looks as though it might become an annual event! Both of these proposals were shot down by Smith county voters, the last, by a 70 to 30 margin!

The local newspaper carried the story quoted in this article.

Not only did the commissioners bulldoze forward with a proposal that clearly lacked public support, but they gave themselves a nice pay raise prior to the election! What has become clear to most of the folks I have spoken with on the issue, is that they want their public officials to back off, and start over from scratch. They want commissioners to ask themselves if a new jail is needed at all, instead of assuming that it is.

This is a valid question in a county that incarcerates more than 50% more of it’s citizens than the state average, in a state that incarcerates 44% more than the national average! There are other means at the disposal of the county for dealing with overcrowding. They could:

1. Stop arresting people for ticket-able offenses.

2. Streamline the system to get pre-trial detainees through the system more quickly.

3. Stop incarcerating child support violators. There are other means of handling this already in place. I will give you more on that with more details penned by Judge Carole Clark in an upcoming update.

These 3 things, taken together, would eliminate overcrowding in the current Smith county facility. Why are they not being done?

Anyway, that should get us up to speed. The original article is bellow:

Note To Smith County Commissioners: People Despise Arrogance in Public Officials!

“Smith Voters Send Clear Messages On Jail Proposal” is what the editorial in the Tyler Morning Telegraph said, but the message is apparently not clear enough for the officials still pushing the idea of a new jail in the next election! The editorial lists three causes: Price, location, and pay raises. It also touched on what I think is a more probable cause.

“We also believe that voters resented the choice made by Smith County commissioners to limit public dialogue.

The message voters received from commissioners, in the format of the town meetings, was “We don’t trust you.” The court’s reasoning behind the format – that naysayers would take up too much time – was flimsy and unconvincing.” Flimsy and unconvincing? No, just downright arrogant!

The naysayers had their say at the voting booth. It was a big horse laugh, and a slap in the face of official arrogance! The message sent back to the commissioners from the naysayers was: We don’t trust you, either, and we are willing to go to the polling places to prove it! The naysayers had the final say!

Well folks, it is time to start looking at what the naysayers say! It is about time for some rethinking. What commissioners should be looking at is alternatives to a new jail! Don’t see what you can salvage from previous attempts, go back to square one. Ask the questions: “Are the voters right? Do we really need a new jail, or should we look at slowing down the rate of incarceration before we propose to tax the people to penury?”

Stop assuming that we even need a new jail. Start thinking outside the cell. The automatic assumption that because we have a problem with overcrowding, we need to build a new inmate warehouse, is a logical fallacy. If you owned a warehouse, and couldn’t process the goods fast enough, you would probably look at speeding up the process before you started thinking of building a new warehouse. Let’s do the same here.

Ask for public input. The sort of vague, quasi sincere requests for input in the past will not get any real information from the public. It would also be good to allow an anonymous forum for those who might otherwise be too timid to submit suggestions. There is a lot of distrust which apparently has gone unrecognized by county officials.

The last proposal had almost no public input. This was seen as arrogance by most people, and people despise arrogance in public officials.

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