Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Two classes serve time behind county bars

Those with the money, those without it
City kitties, County mounties turn up heat

“Put up the dough, and you can go...” Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash...

Waco – It's axiomatic in any court of law that it takes a judge to put an offender behind bars, and it takes a judge to effect the offender's release. That's an ordinary way of the world, and usually it causes no problems.

In hard times, it's a different story.

It's a big enough problem that the Commissioners Court will meet in open session, not in the Commissioners Courtroom, but in a conference room at the Sheriff's Department headquarters building at 9th and Washington at 7:30 a.m. on this coming Thursday for a special meeting in which to talk about possible solutions as to why it's so difficult to make ends meet.

With $10 million in outstanding fines to be gleaned from scofflaws who did not contact the municipal court or forfeit bond for Class C misdemeanor traffic offenses within 10 days, city police officers joined cops from 300 other cities with enthusiasm in a statewide sweep known as the Great Texas Warrant Roundup.

The daily paper trumpeted the news that a young lady named Delena Denee Gordon got caught in the dragnet, and she paid off $408 in warrants for driving with an expired license plate and failure to appear in court.


She works as an assistant in the victim's services section of the McLennan County District Attorney's office. According to the report, it just slipped her mind.

She was allowed to straighten the whole thing out with a friendly phone call to the Municipal Court Clerks. She gave them her credit card number, and they dropped arrest warrants.

Tee Hee. Curb service.
Sheriff Parnell McNamara and DA Abel Reyna

The department's official spokesman said they have thus cleared more than 200 warrants in two days, either in similar ways, or by locking the accused up in the county jail.

Those who have money or access to convenient credit, go free.

All others who are either financially embarrassed, or not so fortunately fixed for credit, go to jail.

District Attorney Abel Reyna declined to comment. He responded to criticism last week that his policies and practices are what's causing overcrowding at the jail. But the truth is, he doesn't operate alone. There are many judges involved, including the County Judge of the Commissioners Court, and they obviously control the cue.

A newly elected County Commissioner contrasted that glowing report from the City of Waco with some figures that will help taxpayers understand why the budget for housing offenders is predicted to total $6.5 million this fiscal year – several million dollars more than originally budgeted.

Will Jones, Pct. 3
Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Jones was a co-founder of the Waco Tea Party. A fiscal conservative, he campaigned on a promise to get to the bottom of why jail cost overruns persist at the McLennan County Sheriff's Office, and he made a good beginning on the promise by turning over a detailed list of offenders and their classifications that gives a snapshot of conditions on a day last month, February 25, 2013.

The shocking truth is that of the 1,204 offenders who were on that day so detained, there was nearly equal parity between those accused or convicted of misdemeanor offenses and those classified as felony offenders.

There were 313 locked up for misdemeanors only; felons with cases yet to be filed, serving time for a conviction, or awaiting transport to TDC numbered 427.

In similar categories, those charged with or convicted of both misdemeanor or felony cases numbered 372.

Offenders charged or convicted of federal offenses numbered 53. A combined total of all cases numbered 2,764.

But it's in the classification and number of days incarcerated where an inquirer begins to form a picture of what cooks behind McLennan County bars.

Of the 39 inmates awaiting traffic cases to be filed, 8 of them had been locked up for 91-plus days, the report shows.

Minor offenders are opting to serve their sentences out, see the judge, receive credit for time served, and go their way.

Two of the six ravens at Bloody Tower, London
That's not all that alarming, but a closer examination shows that of 72 accused offenders released on their personal recognition, which requires no payment of a bond surety fee, in all cases, bond fees were either waived or went uncollected, leaving a total of $233,000 owed by men and women accused of such violent offenses against a person as aggravated robbery, sexual assault, indecency with a child, and sexual assault of a child.

Perpetrators of non-violent but socially unacceptable offenses such as drunk driving and possession of dangerous drugs went free at an equal rate, while their poor cousins sat out their time for such major capers as the Class C misdemeanor offenses of operating a vehicle without insurance in effect, or driving without a driver's license.

The pinch comes on weekends, according to knowledgeable sources, when most misdemeanants get themselves locked up. “Overflow” prisoners are transferred to the Jack Harwell Detention Center at the cost of $45.50 per day for “outside care.” That line item exceeded budget target by 300 percent last fiscal year. That lockup is operated by a private corporation, CEC, Inc., of New Jersey. It was built at taxpayer expense for nearly $50 million and will cost nearly $100 million by the time the rate is paid down to zero.

Meanwhile, a little more than 300 bunks remain empty in the Courthouse Annex jail located next door to the McLennan County Courthouse. McLennan County taxpayers paid $1.2 million to remodel and refurbish a jail that had an operating permit in place at the time of its closure nearly 3 years ago.   

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