AUSTIN, Texas — Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said it’s time to take a serious look at investing in corrections infrastructure in one of the nation’s largest counties, including a new jail in one of the most rapidly growing areas in Texas.
Law enforcement experts say the nation is experiencing a crime wave and Harris County is not exempt.
“We definitely haven’t been immune to that, we’ve seen increases in homicides, we’ve seen increases in aggravated assaults,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez claimed judges are also contributing to the crime wave in Harris County by releasing violent criminals on bond.
“The court backlogs have had a huge impact as well on our crime rate," Gonzalez said. "When there are more people out on bond, it definitely isn’t a good thing when sometimes we’re waiting two, three, four years to return to court...there’s no accountability."
Gonzalez commands the state’s largest sheriff’s department whose jail is out of compliance with the state and is experiencing an inmate boom.
“It’s the first time that we’ve had over 10,000 inmates in more than a decade,” Gonzalez said.
In Austin, while at the Texas Tribune Festival, Gonzalez said a solution in part is investing in public safety infrastructure, including a new jail, to keep from sending inmates hundreds of miles away or across state lines to be housed.
“I do believe that it’s worth seriously considering it. I think our population’s grown, the buildings are outdated, the facilities are very limited in terms of programming that we can offer,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez wants a complex that will be able to house any future criminal justice disruptions, provide rehabilitation services, job training and adult education.
Gonzalez said 75% of those in Harris County’s custody right now are considered violent offenders, he says that number should be closer to 25%.
Gonzalez added that despite outside narratives, Harris County has not defunded police.
“So I think there’s a lot of analysis that needs to be done so it’s not just a throwing a random number out there but being thoughtful, seeing what would that look like,” he said.