Harris County Tackles Jail Overcrowding

Harris County Commissioners take a big step toward fixing the problems at the county jail. Overcrowding has plagued the lockup for years, due to an increase in the number of mentally ill inmates and arrests for possession of small amounts of illegal drugs. Pat Hernandez has more.

Overcrowding at the Harris County Jail is so bad that prisoners have to be transferred out of state. Commissioners approved the appointment of a council of elected officials to address the problem. Harris County Judge Ed Emmett says attention will be paid to one segment that makes up a quarter of the population.

“Those with mental health issues, they’re taking up a lot of room in the jails that really ought to be for, shall we say, hardened criminals, and then they need to be getting the help for their mental health issues somewhere outside of a jail system. That’s obviously not the best place.”

Earle Musick, past president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association wanted Commissioners to include a defense attorney to the council of elected officials.

“As an elected official, they already have a tremendous voice. I’m simply saying that we want to be at that table with the people that are making decisions, and we want to have an equal voice.”

That will not happen, but Judge Emmett says that doesn’t mean the defense will be excluded.

“Clearly, the defense attorneys need to be involved, frankly, the mental health advocates need to be involved. Everybody on the outside who aren’t in official policy positions need to be brought in or it’s not gonna work.”

Emmett has praise for former state district judge Caprice Cosper, who will head the council, and address pieces to the jail overcrowding puzzle.

Pat Hernandez, KUHF…Houston Public Radio News.