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Private prison contract draining Liberty County coffers even as jail population declines

Liberty County is paying more to detain fewer people in its jail, thanks to a contract with private prison corporation Community Education Centers that increases the per diem the county pays as the number of people in its jail falls.  According to an article in last Wednesday's Liberty County Vindicator: 

"Liberty County commissioners approved a $341,168.43 payment to jail management company Community Education Centers (CEC) in the Tues., Aug. 28 commissioners court meeting.

The census at the Liberty County Jail dropped below 150 (at 148), which triggered the ‘cost plus 15%’ arrangement in the CEC contract. County Auditor Harold Seay asked for discussion since the court had discussed the topic in executive session without him.

Seay said the average rate per inmate under the ‘cost plus’ payment comes to $75.48 per prisoner per day, up from the contracted rate of $71.12 per day if the census at the 150 level.  

Seay added, “Even with fewer prisoners, it is costing us $18,213 more.” (County’s controversial inmate ‘cost plus’ rates kick in at $341,168, August 28.  Emphasis added by Texas Prison Bid'ness.)

Liberty County has had a falling jail population due in part to smart-on-crime reforms implemented several years ago.  A previous Texas Prison Bid'ness guest post by Grassroots Leadership MSSW intern Jane Atkinson describes the situation:

"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."

Last week's Vindicator article indicated that the County was still interested in seeking advice from an outside consultant, Texas State University professor Lynn Greenwood, who is performing a study on the impact of de-privatization of the jail.     

See our previous coverage of the Liberty County Jail:

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