Texas Sheriff Says Jail Population Must Be Reduced
Jail isn’t the “appropriate place” for all that get arrested, he says
Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar would like to see fewer people locked up in his jails.
In a recent interview with News 4 San Antonio, Salazar said, “Jail may not be the appropriate place for everybody who gets arrested.”
Salazar’s comments show that even those charged with locking people up are beginning to recognize that America incarcerates too many of its citizens. The United States incarcerates people at a higher rate than any other country in the world.
Salazar’s main issue appears to be that it’s hard to operate the jail when there are so many people locked up, but his solution is similar to that of many criminal justice reformers: lock up fewer people.
Salazar said that he’s looking to reduce the overall jail population. The average jail population has dropped slightly this year from 4,483 people a day in July to 4,356 in October.
But Salazar said he wants to see a much larger reduction.
It’s easier to manage the jail and move inmates that might get into fights with each other when you have fewer inmates. But his jails are close to capacity, which make it more challenging, Salazar said.
The Sheriff said he has moved 82 inmates to the jail in nearby Karnes County because of overcrowding concerns. He hopes to see a further reduction of the number of people locked up via increased use of GPS Monitoring and Bexar County’s new Cite and Release Pilot Program.
That pilot program gives police discretion to ticket people who could be arrested for low level offenses like possession of marijuana less than four ounces. People who receive a ticket would not be arrested or have to go to jail, making it similar to a traffic violation.
Other crimes where police could ticket someone would include vandalism or property damage under $500, refusing to pay a bill at a hotel or restaurant if the cost is under $750, and driving with an invalid license.
Salazar has been a vocal supporter of the pilot program, with his comments being much more effusive than those of District Attorney Nico LaHood, who announced the program earlier this year, but also said the program could become permanent or be discontinued depending on how effective it is.
“I can say this is huge,” Salazar said at the press conference announcing the pilot program. “This will definitely change the face of how we do things in Bexar County. The jail is for people who we’re afraid of, not just for people we’re mad at. … If we don’t find a better way to do things, we’re going to be wasting money and resources.”
The police officer on the street will get to decide whether to make an arrest or issue a ticket, but Salazar’s vocal support for the program could encourage his officers to write more tickets.