Another standoff has developed at another compound in McLennan County. If there is a question as to the culpability of the government in the first standoff, there should be none in the latter. The state clearly is wrong.
The “other” compound is the McLennan County Jail. The state insists on using it because it can’t house all of its prisoners. Those overflow prisoners overcrowd the jail.
Despite the fact that the state is to blame, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards is ordering the taxpayers of McLennan County to foot the bill for a new jail.
Counties shouldn’t be in the business of building prisons. In effect that is what the state is ordering the county to do. This week the jail standards commission reprimanded the county for not acting more quickly to ease jail overcrowding and said it will withhold money it gives the county to house “paper-ready” inmates bound for prison.
Fine. Take those prisoners elsewhere.
The county should refuse henceforth to house overflow prisoners for the state system. It should house inmates who are being held for its purposes. Once they are adjudicated as the responsibility of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, the county should wash its hands of the matter.
Meanwhile, the county should sue the state over this coercion. If it builds a jail, it should be for its own needs, not the state’s. The people of McLennan County are not in the prison construction business.
Two years ago the U.S. Supreme Court ordered the state to repay several counties for the costs incurred housing state prisoners. McLennan County wasn’t in on that suit. It got zip.
County officials are now concerned about how they will house the many prisoners coming from the Branch Davidian compound, assuming that situation is resolved peacefully. We like the idea of housing them in tents if so needed. The county should be doing that now for prison-bound felons as a symbolic solution to overcrowding.
Meanwhile, before it blasts the county for not jumping when it snaps its fingers, the jail standards commission should get its numbers right. It said Wednesday that the jail had a population of 572 as of March 1 (compared to state-set capacity of 470), overshooting the real number by about 50 prisoners.
This whole episode is a travesty, McLennan County should announce itself out of the state prison business.