The Republican commissioner said state leaders should use the budget surplus to help solve the problem.
DALLAS COUNTY, Texas — There isn’t much space left inside the Dallas County Jail and the lone Republican in the commissioners court was blunt when asked what would happen if the Dallas County Jail county was beyond its capacity.
“We spend a lot of money. A lot of money. Basically, we’ll have to ship people to other places,” JJ Koch said on Inside Texas Politics. “We already spend a lot of money on overtime. If we send about 900 more people to our prison, we will spend millions of dollars housing them elsewhere.
The Dallas County Jail has a capacity of approximately 7,200 beds. More than 6,300 are currently occupied, or around 88% of capacity. A “normal” prison population would be around 5,000 people.
Koch used the Harris County Jail, which faces similar overcrowding issues, as an example. That county sent inmates to Louisiana to help solve the problem. But Koch says it’s costing them tens of millions of dollars.
And Harris County leaders had just 30 days to address what the state calls a compliance issue due to overcrowding, as some defendants were held in the reservation area far longer than the law allows. ‘allow before being processed.
Back in Dallas County, Commissioner Koch says there are a lot of people to blame for the overcrowding problem. But he says that largely rests with criminal district judges, those who oversee felony cases.
“They don’t have enough cases. One of the big things is that they have to have trials,” Koch told us. “And usually as you get closer to trial, plea deals in the tougher cases where some contentious issues can be resolved. Because we did not hold a trial, no one had their feet burned in the camp of the prosecutors or the defendants.
Judges argued that pandemic-related closures and COVID issues in courtrooms were a major contributing factor to the backlog.
But Koch points out that counties across the state of Texas have faced the same problem.
And while most other counties have seen a several times dramatic decline in active and pending criminal cases, Dallas County has gone the other way, and the number of these types of cases there has increased more than any other county.
And when lawmakers return to Austin in January for the next legislative session, Koch says the most important thing they can do to help county jails is put the budget surplus to good use. The Republican says in particular that he would like to see a significant amount of money diverted to mental health care.
“The second largest mental health facility in the state of Texas is the Dallas County Jail. So we get a lot of these people. We pay for mental health services no matter what,” Koch said. “We need the state to help us do this before someone gets jailed. More efficient outpatient services. More beds for inpatient services. But also, we need more training.