After winning a grant money of $150,000 from the MacArthur Foundation, the Harris County Criminal Justice Coordinating Council is currently considering how to administer this substantial prize. They’ve won this grant from a contest the said foundation is holding in order to give incentives to overpopulated county jails across the nation. The initial stage attracted about 200 applicants from approximately two hundred counties. But of these two hundred applications, only 20 received the most coveted a hundred and fifty grand.

The recipients of this grant including Los Angeles, Houston, New York, and Philadelphia were given until early January to come up with an efficient plan that can help resolve the over-population issue in county jails in their respective localities. Hence by January, about half of these districts will take home the coveted sum of money. About 2 million dollars per year is spent on criminal justice modification planning in each jurisdiction.

Bill Jackson, the Harris County budget chief as well as the official spokesperson of the criminal justice council, likened this to a “sporting event”. It surely is a challenge for everyone dealing with this present tangible issue of having too many detainees. The council’s convention wasn’t all about self-congratulations but rather a stark reminder of a long hurdle ahead – battling jail overpopulation within the last 4 decades, based on a report released by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.

Back in 2008, unhygienic and risky congestion in county jails urged the DOJ to investigate this condition. This subsequently resulted in an ongoing investigation that commenced in 2009 and is being done by Harris County Commissioners Court and the Justice Management Institute, a non-profit organization based in Virginia. In two years, this joint effort bore fruit – the number of detainees decreased significantly and is no longer overly exceeding jails’ lodging capacity. Nonetheless, some systemic issues linger.

A 2013 investigation performed by the Department of Justice exposed that inmates at the biggest site of the jail 4 areas, are suffering from sexual harassments two times more frequently than in the national level. Last year, about 14 detainees died in the Harris County Jail.

Another prevalent issue in the county jail is the fact that there are a lot of people that are better placed in more “appropriate” places. Based on the most current jail population report, 74% of the inmates are pre-trial defendants. Most of these defendants are actually detained due to non-serious offenses. Plus there are people who are better off placed in a mental institution. Some detainees are incarcerated due to drug abuse or mentally problematic. According to Jay Jenkins, diverting these inmates to a more appropriate detention or facility can help minimize jail overhead and reserve resources. A prison cell is absolutely not an ideal place for a mentally ill individual; hence the county must be able to devise a concrete plan that can solve this problem.

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