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Women Incarcerated to Bring Burnet County Out of Debt

The Dallas Morning News reported on the growing trend of a rising women’s jail population in Burnet County following the facility’s turnover from state and private ownership to county ownership. When Burnet County decided to build a new jail in 2007, the private corporation LaSalle Southwest Corrections ran the facility by housing prisoners for the U.S. Marshals Service and a drug treatment program with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.


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The contract cost the county $40 million in bonds and had been “pitched as a revenue generator that posed no risk to county taxpayers.” The burden of the cost, however, led both LaSalle and Texas Department of Criminal Justice to withdraw from the contract after five years. According to the article, LaSalle lost $4 million in revenue. The article revealed the aftermath of private corporations withdrawing from contracts, leaving local officials to scramble for solutions.

In 2014, Burnet County owed $14 million in debt of bonds to a finance agency. To recover this debt, the county opened space for female prisoners, and by doing so, “inadvertently managed to capitalize on a trend,” the Dallas Morning News reports.  Across Texas, county jails have sought space to house female prisoners as the population of women imprisoned has increased. As a result of the changes at Burnet County jail, the population of women has increased to 76 in a month.

The Dallas Morning News also reported on the increased women’s population in Texas jails, though arrests are down, reflecting national trends of women’s state prison growth. The article recounted a disturbing trend of women incarcerated with both mental health and social needs, often held in jail prior to trial. Women’s populations have most notably increased in rural counties: “Brooks, Burnet, Galveston and Harrison county jails had gained enough pretrial female inmates to make them stand out from other similar counties. Of this group, Burnet county jail had the most unusual increase over time.”

The facility’s detention of women at increasing rates seems to reflect the need for profitability in a county left with a large jail and millions in debt, bolstered by the criminal justice system’s failure to account for the needs and rights of women who have likely experienced trauma and criminalization.

Burnet County Jail has a history of rights violations of prisoners and negative press attention. Texas Prison Bid’ness reported on the facility’s troubled history: LaSalle Southwest Corrections failed a security review in 2012 following a prisoner escape and received rebuke for failure to provide adequate medical care in 2009.

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