Jail expansion was unpopular in 2007 with voters in Harris County and the City of Houston. Learning from that defeat, local politicians gained approval of an expansion of the jail, but they called it something else on the 2013 ballot.
That ballot proposal was “fundamentally different than what was asked a few years ago, which was about adding onto the county jail,” said Houston Mayor Annise Parker. “This is a joint city-county project, and the public rally appreciates the fact that the city and the county are working together closely.”
The inmate processing center was sold to voters as means to “take the city of Houston out of the jail business, quit the duplication of operations, save the taxpayers money, and get cops back out on the street faster,” by Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia.
A poll showed that leading up to the election, 58% of respondents supported building the new center and only 21% opposed it. “Maybe it’s because we called it a joint inmate processing center as opposed to a jail, but that’s what’s on the ballot,” said Rice University Political science professor Bob Stein. “And more importantly, voters support this regardless of their perception of crime.”
There were no organized groups against the ballot initiative. “So, I think, the stars are aligned for this to pass and pass by a good margin,” said Stein.
On Election Day, supporters of the ballot initiative were sweating the returns. While optimism was high going to the election, concern reigned as the votes were tallied. In the end, the initiative passed, but it was by a slim 0.2% margin of the votes cast.
The actual vote was 112,289 in favor and 111,833 against, which was a 456 vote margin. The final tally shows that not everyone was fooled by this jail expansion by another name. In the end, Harris County and the city of Houston will have more beds to lock up more people.
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