Beyond Dead Malls: Dead Jails

What can a county do with an empty downtown jail?


What happens when you cross the incarceration boom with the white-elephant projects that so many city and county governments love? Scott Henson sums up the situation in one Texas town:

"Welcome to McLennan County. May I take your bags?"
McLennan County

Entrepreneurial jail building has left Waco with an empty jail downtown and no revenue stream to pay for the bonds issued to build an unnecessary extra facility. Faulty projections of increased immigration detention have left McLennan County and others seeking to rent out extra beds in the lurch.

By entrepreneurial jail building, Henson means local jurisdictions erecting extra jail space with plans to profit by taking in prisoners from other arms of the government. You know how some towns think the ticket to prosperity is to spend their taxes on a convention center? This is like that, except the conventioneers can't leave.

Waco's woes involve a facility that's been closed since 2010 but still costs the county a lot of money in upkeep. The Waco Tribune has more details here.