An $83 Million Decision for Lubbock Voters - KCBD NewsChannel 11 Lubbock

10/29/02

An $83 Million Decision for Lubbock Voters

Lubbock County is already poised to build the new $83 million jail, but only if Lubbock County voters approve it. As with any proposition, there are those who support it and those who oppose it. Some say we can't afford to build it, others say we can't afford not to.

If we build it, will we regret it? No one seems to disagree that overcrowding at the current jail is a problem, but attorney Rod Hobson says building a new jail isn't the answer.

"We already have the existing infrastructure here. Why are we moving it 10 miles outside of town and building the Taj Mahal?" says Hobson.

Hobson says if we do need more room, expansion in downtown might be a better alternative.

But Hobson and others question whether we need to expand at all. Hobson says this might all boil down to a mismanagement issue. He says instead of expanding the jail, a better option might be expanding work-release programs. He also says moving misdemeanor crimes through the system faster could greatly reduce jail overcrowding.

"The crime rate, if anything, has kind of gone down a little. That's why their study (Lubbock County's jail overcrowding study) suggests we've got a management problem," says Hobson.

Hobson also says another alternative to building a new jail might be buying out and fixing up an old shopping center like the K-Mart building. He says it could be used to house prisoners waiting to be transferred or serving out their time. Inmates who no longer need access to the courthouse, bonding companies, and attorneys.

Attorney Susan Rowley agrees. Rowley says it's the undisclosed costs of building a new facility that she has a problem with.

"Think of it this way: court appointed attorneys are paid by taxpayers. If we have a jail outside the city limits, they're going to have to pay the court appointed attorneys for travel expenses to the jail," says Rowley.

Rowley also says additional personnel, transportation to and from the courthouse, and additional security will cost the county millions, numbers she doesn't think voters are aware of.

"I usually support the county commissioners and the sheriff, but on this one, I think they need to disclose more about the big picture," says Rowley.

But Sheriff David Gutierrez disagrees. He says he's been open and honest with the public from the beginning and will continue giving it to you straight.

"The facts are that we have more prisoners than beds," says Sheriff Gutierrez.

Sheriff Gutierrez also says this is about planning and making Lubbock better off in the future. He says it's been an issue and will continue to be an issue until we do something about it. He says we need a new jail, but we have safer streets to show for it.

"In 1997 - 1998, Senator Robert Duncan pulled other state officials together to make Lubbock a low crime rate city. What that means is we've targeted repeat offenders and career criminals. Setting higher bonds and keeping them off the streets," says Gutierrez.

The current jail operating costs and salaries are about $9.7 million. The South Plains Area Residents Taxpayers Action Network, or SPARTAN, says a new jail will increase operating costs by at least $5.1 million a year, maybe even as much as $16.4 million a year.

"There was not a citizens' committee put together to look at options. This was just thrown out suddenly just in time to get it on the ballot," says Mikel Ward with SPARTAN.

Gutierrez says increased operating costs are a better alternative than paying outside counties to house our overflow inmates.

"If you have more prisoners, you have to have more officers. It's just a fact of life. It's business. It's better than contracting our prisoners out at $3.5 million a year," says Gutierrez.

But even if we build a new jail, Hobson says we might as well throw away the key, because we won't be able to open it.

"It's well established that for every dollar spent on construction, we'll spend $10 on operations. Lubbock County cannot afford that," says Hobson.

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