Break the law, go camping

New home for Texas prisoners outside of Wink, Texas

Politicians often go for the simple answers when it comes to matters such as law and order. This is as true in Texas as in the rest of the country. However, Texas has been traditionally home to a “lock-em-up and throw-away-the-key” mentality. That is until practicality gets in the way. If those jails start getting crowded and the money isn’t there to give some small town a new state prison as governmental pork, then you see all manners of rapists and murders getting set free from prisons.

Most politicos would prefer to have it both ways. For instance, Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford, has pre-filed a bill that would allow the state to look tough on crime AND provide alternative inmate housing. And all of it would be accomplished by merely scratching from existing law about two dozen letters.

King wants a change in law which would allow prisoners to be housed in tents indefinitely rather than merely on a temporary basis. Local county sheriffs and commissioners would not have to ask permission of the State Commission on Jail Standards to house prisoners in tents or other facilities which are not jails. No, King took his pen and scratched that out. And he also scratched out “TEMPORARY” on the section’s caption. That’s right, do the time and you may find yourself in a God-forsaken ice storm on some lonely farm in the Panhandle or perhaps fending off alligators and hummingbird-sized mosquitoes out in the coastal marshes.

So what is so wrong with housing inmates in tents anyway? I mean, isn’t it fun to go camping? Yes, camping can be a lot of fun. But there is a difference between being forced to camp and putting up a tent for a weekend or vacation getaway. But just think what it would do for your local sheriff. Keeping inmates in tents would be just one more way politicians could show that they mean bidness. “We all are tough on crime down in these here parts, ya heah?”

My concerns are not so much aimed at the comfort and welfare of the prisoners as it is for the safety of the communities near the prison camps. Housing inmates in tents may be tough. But how secure is it going to be? You hear about jailbreaks and escapes from prisons almost every day. Do you remember how easy it was to sneak out of the tent at church camp and paddle across the lake to the girls’ camp? Well, just remember that these campers in tents would be professional criminals, many of whom made a living sneaking in and out of places before getting caught.

If you want to give Phil King a rousing applause for his tough-on-crime solution to jail overcrowding, then by all means please do so. Just don’t come bitching to me when your neighborhood is locked after some inmate flys the coop, er, the tent. Deal?

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