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Liberty County hires consultants to look into who should run the jail

The Liberty County Commissioners Court decided Tuesday, August 26 to hire a firm to consult on whether County Sheriff Bobby Rader should take over direct operation of the jail or leave it in the hands of a for-profit, private prison company.

The Liberty County Jail, photo courtesy of CEC.
The Liberty County Jail, photo courtesy of CEC.
The Liberty County Jail is currently operated by Community Education Centers. The consulting firm, MGT of America, Inc. is based in Austin and will be paid $64,000 to help the county decide what to do.

The issue is whether the contract with CEC is costing the county. In 2012, a study by Texas A&M researcher Lynn Greenwood for Liberty County found that de-privatization of the Liberty County Jail would help the county to manage its jail costs as it continues efforts to reduce the population in its jail. 

County Auditor Harold Seay told Commissioner Mike McCarty that this year’s cost overrun for the jail’s operation will be about $800,000.

“We’ve got to do something,” Commissioner McCarty said.

For his part, Sheriff Rader explained his concern that while many claim the county can save at least $1 million by operating the jail directly, he might be blamed if that does not happen.

Still Sheriff Rader told the court, “We’re ready to take to take it. You give me the money to run it, and we’ll run it.”

One candidate in Liberty County has made ending the county's contract with CEC part of his platform. Leon Wilson listed "Stopping the waste of millions of dollars by bringing the jail back under County administration" as the first item on his platform when he announced his candidacy in the primaries in the Liberty Vindicator.  Wilson won that primary and will be on the November ballot. 

And like many for-profit, private prisons, the Liberty County Jail has seen it's share of scandal. For example, a CEC guard at the jail was arrested on March 15 for allegedly bringing contraband into the facility. Another CEC guard was arrested for smuggling drugs into the jail in 2013. A district court judge also accused CEC of thwarting its efforts to reduce the jail population with increased costs. 

However, the commissioners may be still considering contracting with priviate prison companies. The court also voted on Tuesday to issue a request for proposals from companies that might want to run the Liberty County jail.

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