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Private Prison Deal Continues to Cost McLennan County

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McLennan County officials are working to save money in their criminal justice system, but continue to be burdened with a private prision deal that costs the county, according to an article at KWTX.com ("McLennan County: Officials Looking for Jail Savings, Saddled by Private Jail Deal" 9/30/13). 

According to the article, the county aims to streamline its justice system to save money. The county commission approved a new budget in August. Included is a five cent increase in the tax rate and $4.5 million in budget cuts.

McLennan County Judge Scott Felton created the McLennan County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee--which includes law enforcement personnel, judges, and prosecutors who all want to lower jail costs--after the jail ended up $2 million over budget in this fiscal year. That money can be saved by reducing the jail's population by ten percent, according to the article.  

Unfortunately, any savings from that reduction in population would be countered by a deal that McLennan County made with LaSalle Corrections to operate the county's privately-operated Jack Harwell Detention Center. According to the deal, the county has agreed to pay LaSalle Corrections to house 325 prisoners, whether or not the cells are actually in use. Felton claimed that the deal allowed taxpayers to avoid paying the entire bill, which is the bond payment that LaSalle makes on the facility, according to the article.

"Having LaSalle as operator and us having to guarantee a threshold is better than not having anyone at all," Felton said. Felton is sure that the county-run Highway 6 jail can ensure savings for the county. "There are ways that we can cut back on expenses...to offset some of that," Felton says.   

The private prison industry continues to cause trouble for many communities in which they operate. Clearly, McLennan County is no exception.