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Houston jail to ease overcrowding by sending 500 pretrial detainees to LaSalle Correctional private jails in Louisiana

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Houston jail to ease overcrowding by sending 500 pretrial detainees to LaSalle Correctional private jails in Louisiana

Theoretically, at least, if 500 prisoners can be moved from the overcrowded Harris County jail to private correctional facilities, they become someone’s problem other than Sheriff Ed Gonzalez’s.

Theoretically.

Harris County commissioners last month unanimously approved the REQUEST by Gonzalez to reduce jail crowding by outsourcing 500 pretrial defendants from Harris County to as then-unspecified locations – locations that ultimately ended up as LaSalle Corrections facilities in Louisiana hundreds of miles from prisoners’ families and legal representatives.

Gonzalez told commissioners that arrests were being made at a faster rate than prisoners were being processed out of the county jail which on a given day has 9000 prisoners. “There is no other facility in the entire state of Texas, no state prison and no county jail, that comes close to those kinds of numbers,” the sheriff said.

Gabriela Barahona, a program associate with the Texas Jail Project, agreed that the jail is overcrowded but disagreed with the proposed solution. She argued that the solution was to detain and prosecute fewer people on low-level offenses.

She apparently bruised the feelings of the Haris County District Attorney when she said, “We’re horrified by the county’s instinct to even consider outsourcing defendants rather than take responsibility for the front-end problem in the DA’s office. I cannot believe this court that claims to care about the indigent defense and court backlog crises would pay a Louisiana premium to exacerbate them.”

Dane Schiller, a spokesperson for the DA’s office was quick to respond via email:

“Criminals, not prosecutors, determine how many crimes are committed and it is up to judges to decide who should be held in jail or released pending trial,” he said. “While the Texas Jail Project may be about getting as many defendants as possible back into the streets no matter what, the District Attorney’s Office is about keeping the public safe, the system’s fair, and basing decisions on evidence.”

Apparently, the welfare of the prisoners, who haven’t even gone to trial yet, is of secondary importance, given the choice of where they’re being sent.

It’s not like there hasn’t been sufficient information available in recent months regarding LaSalle’s track record.

Things were so bad at its facility in Texarkana that LaSalle eventually TERMINATED its contract to run the Bowie County Jail following claims of inmate neglect, death of prisoners, charges of falsification of records, failure to complete training courses, lying about those courses, beatings of prisoners, denying medications, avoiding reporting in-custody deaths by releasing prisoners to hospitals or families prior to their deaths, filthy conditions, and, in the case of its Georgia facility, the performance of unwanted HYSERECTOMIES on female detainees.

Another inmate in the Texarkana facility, initially arrested for the heinous crime of jaywalking, was subsequently beaten while “absent – not assigned,” meaning he was just flat-out LOST and unaccounted for. It’s still undetermined if he was beaten by guards or by fellow prisoners.

LaSalle also got into legal trouble in Louisiana, paying out a $405,000 settlement to a former inmate at its Jackson Parish Correctional Center. Links to several LouisianaVoice stories about LaSalle can be accessed by going HERE.

President Joe Biden, if you recall, promised during his campaign that he would abolish the private prison system. So far, there has been no obvious effort to deliver on that promise.

Dumping 500 of Houston’s pretrial detainees into LaSalle facilities in Louisiana doesn’t seem like much of a move in the direction of abolishment of a bad system – bad for everyone, that is, but the private prisons and sheriffs who receive campaign contributions from them.

Opponents say the transfer will exacerbate root causes of the population crisis, inadequate indigent defense, and court backlogs. They also claim that defendants are being charged too frequently, saying that 67 percent of misdemeanor arrests and 34 percent of all felony arrests in 2019 resulted in dismissals.

The problem isn’t totally with LaSalle, however. Budgeted upgrades to Houston’s adult detention facilities was $185.7 million for fiscal year 2021-2022 with the TOTAL BUDGET for the Harris County Public Safety and Justice capital improvement program topping out at $301.4 million. That’s more than Harris County’s combined expenditures for pollution control, public health and mental health.

Still, opponents of the move say, LaSalle is “a notoriously abusive and deadly private prison company.”

Just thinking out loud, but it seems like a pretty good idea for someone to check Gonzalez’s campaign report for contributions from LaSalle or a certain Ruston family named McConnell.

Just sayin’.

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