Vera Institute of Justice Report on Chambers County Jail Proposal

Steady economic growth and low unemployment in suburban areas should have resulted in lower incarceration levels. Instead, we’ve seen a massive investment in jails.


October 16th, 2023

Contact: Nico MacDonald | | (212) 376-3138

Anahuac, TX — Over the past decade, Texas has experienced rapid jail construction and expansion, especially in suburban areas like Chambers County. According to a report released today by the Vera Institute of Justice (Vera), steady economic growth and low unemployment in these areas should have resulted in lower incarceration levels across the state; instead, we’ve seen a massive investment in jails, especially in suburban places.

In Chambers County, officials have been trying to build a large new jail for over a decade. Having twice failed to secure funding for the jail via a public vote, commissioners have now formed a public-private partnership with a developer to build the jail. In late August 2023, the commissioners chose to commit upwards of $308 million over the next 30 years to a jail and court complex while demolishing a local library in the process.

“Across Texas, suburbs like Chambers County are suffering the consequences of a punitive criminal legal system that has led to record-high numbers of people in jail, often for issues related to substance use, mental illness, and poverty,” said Monica Smith, associate director of policy and advocacy at Vera. “A new jail will not meet the needs of county residents. Officials should address the local policies that contribute to high incarceration in Chambers County—such as judges setting high bond amounts—and prioritize investments that meet people’s economic and health needs.”

Beyond the large price tag, the harms of a new and expanded jail include job and housing loss, worse mental health outcomes, and a higher risk of drug overdose for people detained in the jail. The needs of these residents have been absent from discussions about the county’s jail.

In the last year, an average of 90 percent of people incarcerated in the Chambers County Jail were not yet convicted. Far too often, people are in jail because they are unable to afford the bail set in their case, whereas someone with financial means and the same charge would be able to secure their release and prepare for their case from home. Unaffordable money bail results in the poor being disproportionately criminalized and burdened with the consequences of incarceration. Local officials have not factored these real, human costs into their decision.

Suburban counties can and should release people from jail before trial, provide lawyers at court appearances, and invest in supportive services for people accused of criminal offenses. Government officials can reduce the harms of incarceration in their communities by prioritizing investments that foster public safety such as affordable housing, education, and access to affordable behavioral health treatment.


About the Vera Institute of Justice

The Vera Institute of Justice is powered by hundreds of advocates, researchers, and policy experts working to transform the criminal legal and immigration systems until they’re fair for all. Founded in 1961 to advocate for alternatives to money bail in New York City, Vera is now a national organization that partners with impacted communities and government leaders for change. We develop just, antiracist solutions so that money doesn’t determine freedom; fewer people are in jails, prisons, and immigration detention; and everyone is treated with dignity. Vera’s headquarters is in Brooklyn, New York, with offices in Washington, DC, New Orleans, and Los Angeles. For more information, visit