Fighting the Fiscal & Physical Hemorrhaging in Bexar County!
Commissioner Tommy Adkisson
June 5, 2008
When I was first elected County Commissioner, I attended the LBJ School of Public Policy for "Commissioner 101". They told us that the first rule of Commissioner's Court is that you had to know how to count to three. That is the numerical majority it takes to pass anything on the Court. The second rule is to develop a good relationship with the Sheriff. The Sheriff's Office generally consumes about half of the County's budget.
I have always remembered that advice. Last week we had a "Jail Strategies Work Session" at Commissioner's Court. I know from my studies of the correctional system that 97% of everyone sentenced to jail or prison gets back out, some sooner of course than others. I know from talking with informed and veteran staffers around the jail that 81% of everyone in our county jail has already been there before!
It has not been lost on me that every 400 inmates in our jail costs the taxpayers of Bexar County $8 million annually. And, about 72% of our County's revenue comes from property taxes. In the interest of attempting to fight rising tax rates or simply rising taxes as well as reprioritizing where we spend our money, I propose that we make WORK the centerpiece of much of what we do in our criminal justice system here in Bexar County.
We can start by taking the people languishing in our jail and putting those qualified on work-release. It is said that there is no growth inside the comfort zone and this will take some getting outside the comfort zone for those directing and managing our criminal justice system.
A couple of our trusted and veteran Planning and Resources Management staff interviewed about 150 inmates. These weren't the worst of the worst. Many had been in our jail for two to three months. The only thing worse than the length of their stay is that after they get out, 81% will be back!
The revealing fact of these 150 is that 62% of them were employed at the time of arrest. What do you think happens after they have been sitting around in our jail for two to three months? Remember, 81% of them return!
Taking the 62% and multiplying it times the average jail population of 4,200 gives you about 2,604 who were working at the time of arrest. Divide 2,604 by 400 and you get 6.5 sets of 400 inmates at $8 million apiece annually or $52 million savable annually. If the figures are too high and we cut it in half, we save or redirect $26 million in savings into job training of those 67% of our inmates who didn't get a high school diploma, we devote it to a system of primary or even basic stroke care at our University Health System and save taxes!