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McLennan County Seeking New Private Jail

The Waco Tribune-Herald reported in a story last week ("Solutions aplenty for jail overcrowding dilemma," May 28) that the McLennan County Commission is seeking proposals from private prison operators for a solution to alleviate crowding at the County Jail. McLennan County is home to Waco, and has had overcrowding problems in the past. From the story,

McLennan County commissioners are seeking proposals from private vendors to alleviate overcrowding at the county jail, a situation that earlier this month prompted them to authorize the hiring of 12 new jailers.

The jail on State Highway 6 has been teetering on its maximum capacity for several years and has been operating with variances from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.

Seeking to appease the state jail commission after it issued a remedial order May 1, the commissioners court Tuesday voted to request proposals to address overcrowding after meeting for an hour with Sheriff Larry Lynch and the county’s attorney, Herb Bristow. The deadline for proposals is July 8.

Herb Bristow, in addition to the being the McLennan County Attorney, has acted as a private consultant for other counties negotiating with private prison corporations, including a failed jail expansion deal in Grayson County.

The article points to a number of options the county is discussing to address its overcrowding issues:

County commissioners have settled on four options for solving jail overcrowding. With the county’s lease with private detention company Community Education Centers to operate a 329-bed downtown jail expiring Oct. 1, one option seeks proposals to operate and manage the McLennan County Detention Center on Columbus Avenue. ...

A second option calls for a private company to finance, design, construct, operate and manage a new 1,000-bed jail to be built on 8.9 acres west of the current 931-bed facility on Highway

A third option combines the first two, with a company operating the downtown jail and building and operating the new 1,000-bed jail on Highway

The fourth option calls for a private company to take over all county detention duties except for booking, releasing and records. That would include operating the downtown and Highway 6 jails and building a new one.

The current debate in McLennan County seems to be over how to expand the county's jail system and not on how to reduce the incarcerated population. Unfortunately, it's a conclusion that greatly benefits private prison corporations. It's often only after a jail expansion that communities realize you can't build your way out of a jail overcrowding problem.

As Nicole has blogged about here at Texas Prison Bid'ness, and Grits for Breakfast has covered here and here, common sense solutions to jail overcrowding exist, and they don't include jail expansion. It's a lesson McLennan County and many others will hopefully learn before its too late.

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