Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Judge Called Out On Arithmetic of Jail Costs by Ph.D.

Net Cost to taxpayers - $30,000 per month

Judge Lewis calls it “a cheap way to get your name in the newspaper”

It was one of those embarrassing moments that come around in public life, the bearding of the lion in his own den.

McLennan County Judge Jim Lewis listened to only part of the message, then he cut his challenger off. He told Dr. Ralph Cooper, Democratic candidate for County Judge, that the Court had no further time to listen to his remarks.

But the numbers don't lie.

Judge Lewis has been telling the media that the county is actually making money – or breaking even – on an 816-bed jail built to be operated by CEC, a private corporation headquartered in New Jersey.

Dr. Ralph Cooper – his doctorate is in social psychology - put the lie to the claim during the public statement portion of Commissioners' Court proceedings.

“...I would like to address a matter of arithmetic,” he began.

By the time he was through, he had explained why the county is actually experiencing a $30,000 per month net loss on the operation of the Jack Harwell Detention Center, a $50 million project erected on revenue bonds issued by the Commissioners' Court.

Less than half of its beds are filled at present.

Here's the way the figures add up – or don't add up, depending on your point of view.

“Last week, a member of this Court (Judge Jim Lewis) was on TV news saying that the County is gaining 'more than a half-million dollars a year' on the new jail. According to the publicly available information, the truth is that the County gets $40,000 per month, which is an annual rate of $480,000...That is less, not more than $500,000 a year. After the end of the year, the County will receive $2.00 per prisoner per day, which at current occupancy is less than $25,000 per month or only $300,000 per year.

“Second, there is a net loss of revenue resulting from closing the downtown jail.

“To get prisoners into the jail and get that $40,000, the County closed the downtown jail from which the County was getting an estimated $70,000 per month. That means that the decision to build the new jail is costing the taxpayers of McLennan County $30,000 a month in net lost revenue, and the decision to build it is a net loss to the county, now and in the foreseeable future.”

He went on to explain that criminologists predicted an uptick in jail population during the first decade of the new century.

“Had the criminology community been consulted, they would have said that 25 years ago a downturn in crime and jail populations was predicted for the first decade of this century, as the 'echo boom' generation, the children of the 'baby boomers,' reached thirty years of age, and aged out of the highest crime rate segment of the population.”

He never got the chance to finish his statement.

Confronted by a journalist from the Waco daily, Judge Lewis said, “I am not going to reply to anything Mr. Cooper says. That's just a cheap way for him to get his name in the paper.”

Here's the rest of the story.

“Until May,” said Dr. Cooper in a prepared statement, “the county was housing its prisoners at the downtown jail for $37.50 per prisoner per day. The County is now paying $45.50 at the new jail, a net increase in cost to taxpayers of $8.00 per day or about $243 per month per prisoner put in the new jail.”

He also pointed out that the Harris County and Dallas County prisoners that will be brought in to help pay the expenses on the new jail will be housed at a rate of $45.00 per day – 50 cents cheaper per diem than McLennan County prisoners shifted from the downtown jail.

“Because these are important economic issues for the County, I ask the Court to appoint a citizens commission to explore alternatives.”

Question – a rhetorical and completely speculative question in its nature: For whom is this so cheap a way to get one's name in the paper?

Any volunteers for the citizens' commission to study the true and actual costs of the Jack Harwell Detention Center?

Apply at the office of Judge Jim Lewis in the McLennan County Courthouse.

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