A stunning 25 percent of the annual $1.5 billion budget in Houston’s Harris County goes to law enforcement, with $750,000 a day spent on detainees, reports Forbes magazine. Houston is far from alone. Amid budget crises, falling tax revenue, and national unemployment approaching 10 percent, jails saw their populations grow nearly twice as fast as state and federal prison populations during the first half of the decade, says the Justice Policy Institute.
The report says that local governments spent $97 billion on criminal justice in 2004, up 347% since 1982, while detention expenses climbed 519% to $19 billion. Between 2006 and 2008, Harris County’s jail population grew 21 percent, adding 1,900 more mouths to feed three times a day. In 2000, there were 621,149 people in local hoosegows; by midyear 2008 there were 26 percent more, or 785,556 inmates housed at an average 95 percent of rated capacity.