You are here

The Ballad of Liberty County

This post is a guest entry by Jane Atkinson, an MSSW intern working with Grassroots Leadership.  

After twice temporarily extending its jail contract with Community Education Centers, the Liberty County Commissioners Court voted last Monday to renew the contract for two years (Cleveland Advocate, "County approves jail contract for approximately $4 million annually," April 16), with an option to break the contract in six months. Though the decision to renew is disappointing, there is hope that the county will push for de-privatization of the jail over the next six months. 

Liberty County has had a rough relationship with CEC. After Liberty County implemented some smart-on-crime tactics and lowered its jail population, CEC raised the per diem rate of each person in the jail, keeping Liberty County from saving money (Cleveland Advocate, "County’s jail inmate population down, but companies now asking for more money per inmate," January 21).

In addition to bad financial deals, CEC has also raised concerns over its ability to properly manage its facilities, from failed inspections as recently as 2011, to the recent indictment of a CEC guard for smuggling drugs to inmates. An op-ed I wrote two weeks ago further details the tenuous relationship between Liberty County and CEC. These troubles led to the county considering a new private manager (LaSalle/Southwest Corrections) or taking over jail operations themselves.   

Furthermore, a feature by Sarah Beth Bolin of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition in the Vindicator makes common-sense recommendations on how the county can decrease the jailed population and save money by not contracting with a private company. 

The new contract with CEC comes with a hefty price tag. Last year the county spent $3.2 million on the jail. The new contract is for $4 million annually. That’s an increase of $800,000 when the jail population is actually lower than it was last year. With this contract the per diem rate is on a sliding scale, so if there are fewer inmates the rate increases, which takes away the financial incentive for the county to reduce the inmate population. It was this poor dealing that had the county looking for other options in the first place. 

Liberty County Sheriff Patterson said, “I think it will be a win-win situation for employees and the contractors.” But how does the county or taxpayers win in this equation? 

On the bright side, a Liberty County official with whom I have been in contact let me know that, according to one Commissioner, Liberty County will pursue a study to determine if the County should run its own jail. With six months to consider a county take-over of the jail, it’s possible the commissioners and the sheriff may yet make a better decision for the county. It is an election year, after all, so there may be some pressure on the commissioners.

 

Blogging Categories: