Rethinking the Bexar County Jail
by
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
July 6, 2006

We almost always think of someone else being in jail and definitely not any of us. Therefore, we feel relatively safe. That is the good news. We also tend to think that those in jail probably deserve to be there. True and false!

Conservatively speaking, our over 4,000 inmate population costs Bexar County taxpayers around 70 million annually! Is this part of the price we locally pay for safety? Not necessarily.

In my opinion two things should drive the population at the Bexar County Jail and in this order: 1. Safety and 2. Use of taxpayer money or economics. Striking the right balance in our jail operation should always be done in favor of safety first. There are however instances where safety is not so much the focus and taxpayer dollars are spent in a manner that is nothing short of profligate or reckless.

How Our Criminal Justice System Works

One of the first things that should be recognized is that the jail is a maximum security facility. It is a one-size-fits-all operation.

There are two timeframes during which an inmate can be in our County Jail:

Before Trial - The Accused

Every accused in our system is either bonded with a commercial bail bond or given a personal recognizance bond if they are not placed in jail, before trial. Those who are bonded are then supervised by your County's Pretrial Services Department.

There are also alternatives to incarceration like electronic monitors, work-release and the like.

After Trial - The Convicted

Those that are convicted of an offense either go to the State prison, the County Jail or are placed on probation after trial.

What happens in their and our lives when they leave the Jail to come back into our communities is very important. This calls for an intelligent and ongoing inquiry into how we should best handle both those both inside and outside our jail.

The Bexar County Jail and most jails regularly "marinate" their inmates in some of the most dysfunctional "sauce" or settings ever concocted by man. It seems that we are punishing them and we in many instances are. However, when those many able-bodied, employable individuals come out unemployed, unprepared to work or simply "shell-shocked" or schooled in crime by or during the jail experience, we in the free world lose in a huge way.

Although there is much to be considered in order to improve the jail population, the concept of "work" seems to be missing the most! Of the first-time, non-violent offenders and those who have jobs when they are picked up, work should be our foremost consideration. Some who spend several days in our jail "working off" their traffic fines end up not paying the fines, costing the Bexar County taxpayer daily ($250.00 on the first day and $50.00 each day thereafter) and perhaps coming out without a job or with a diminished work ethic to apply on the outside!

This is why certain low grade offenders should be arrested and placed on work release or electronic monitoring. Each of these programs requires the offender to pay a daily rate to the County and is able to keep working on the outside. Each is "deprived" of the negative programming the real thugs in the jail provide their fellow inmates. Also, taxes and bills get paid and families are not penalized for the stupidity of the offender.

Tom Paine, prolific American Revolutionary pamphleteer said, "A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defense of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason."

The old saw of "locking and socking" the offenders is inadequate and against our long term interest. We must be more thoughtful and place the square pegs in square holes and round pegs in the round holes. One size does not fit all. When we do this, both safety and economy will be served now and for many years into the future.

<< Return to Writings